The U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world, and most incarcerated individuals are parents of minor children. Children of incarcerated parents are at risk for developing negative outcomes in adolescence and adulthood, including substance abuse, externalizing problems, cognitive delays, school failure, truancy, criminal activity, and persistent internalizing problems. Many more children experience the incarceration of fathers than mothers;however, children of incarcerated mothers are more likely to experience risk factors and negative outcomes. Although there is an increasing literature on children of parents imprisoned in state or federal corrections facilities, we know little about young children of parents incarcerated in local jails;indeed, no prior studies have documented the current developmental functioning of young children of jailed parents. Moreover, although parent-child visits during parental incarceration appear to be a key factor for children's well-being, no studies have attempted to rate the quality of children's visits with incarcerated parents. Such ratings of visits, which will be conducted in the present study for the first time, are of critical importance when developing recommendations for appropriate procedures for children's visits at jails and for developing interventions that help prepare children for such visits. In the proposed research, we address 4 specific aims: (1) To collect short-term longitudinal data from jailed parents, their young children, and children's caregivers, including (a) determining the feasibility of conducting an observation and screening in the jail setting and in the child's home, and (b) collecting reports of child behavior problems from teachers/daycare providers, (2) To document children's attachment to caregivers, behavior problems, vocabulary, cognitive skills, and experience of general risks (e.g., poverty, parental alcohol and drug use, parental mental health problems) and incarceration-specific risks (e.g., witnessing parent's crime, arrest, sentencing) when a parent is in jail, (3) To examine family processes (quality of visits with the jailed parent, caregiving stability, home environment quality, parent-caregiver relationship) as potential protective factors for young children with jailed parents, and (4) To examine potential differences in children's development associated with jailed parent characteristics, including gender, type of offense, number of prior arrests, and length of the current incarceration. By addressing these aims, we will lay the groundwork for 3 long-term goals: (1) developing recommendations for children's visits with jailed parents, (2) developing interventions that help prepare children for visits, and (3) implementing developmental screening protocols with young children when they visit their parents in jail.

Public Health Relevance

This project will provide important data that will increase our understanding of the current developmental functioning of young children with parents incarcerated in local jails, a growing and high risk but understudied population. Although parent-child visits are important for children's well-being during parental incarceration, no studies have rated the quality of children's visits with jailed parents. Such ratings of visitation quality, which will be conducted for the first time in the present study, are essential for developing recommendations for appropriate procedures when children visit at jails and interventions to help prepare children for such visits.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Child Psychopathology and Developmental Disabilities Study Section (CPDD)
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Maholmes, Valerie
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University of Wisconsin Madison
Other Domestic Higher Education
United States
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Poehlmann-Tynan, Julie; Burnson, Cynthia; Runion, Hilary et al. (2017) Attachment in young children with incarcerated fathers. Dev Psychopathol 29:389-404