What are the effects of Parental Incarceration on Caregivers?

Being a caregiver comes with its own level of stress, but being a caregiver when one of the parents is in prison adds to the problem. When the father goes to prison, the sole caregiving is put on the mother. Most of whom are single heads of the household. When the mother goes to prison, the grandparents become responsible for the well-being of the child. 

A caregiver’s job is difficult, to say the least because it comes with a host of hardships and new realities. Many times, the single parent needs to play both mother and father while the other parent is behind bars. Children coping skills rely on the caregiver to protect and nurture them, which can be double-duty with the incarcerated parent away.

In truth, caregivers can and will feel a sense of overwhelming stress in their lives as this adds another level of problems dumped into their laps. This also includes a serious financial impact of incarceration for the caregiver. 

  1. Forty-one percent of children with incarcerated parents live with families that have an income of less than one-hundred percent of the federal poverty level. 
  2. Seventy percent of caretakers are over middle-age or over fifty with fifty-five percent of children living with a caregiver who doesn’t have a spouse. Nineteen percent live in households that have four or more children.
  3. Caregivers have to make a decision on whether to leave a job to take better care of the children. If they aren’t working, then they risk losing their retirement savings to pay for the needs of the children.
  4. The income of a family over the years of an incarcerated father is twenty-two percent lower than before his incarceration. This is a huge cut in income.

Some caregivers not only worry about the children’s health but theirs as well. With many caregivers over fifty, they have their own health problems as well and must cope with finding ways to make those limited resources work. 

The emotional impact on caregivers can range from outright anger to resentment towards the incarcerated parent or even the children. Additional stress can create an unneeded burden that many aren’t prepared to deal with. These forms of stress can come in many forms.

  1. The incarcerated parent may want to have an active parenting role and not see things the way the caregiver does. This sends mixed signals to the children and can cause problems in the family’s relationship.
  2. At times, that resentment can flow into not taking the children to the prison for a visit as a way to punish the incarcerated parent.
  3. Many mothers left to being single and solo parenting feel a strong need to make a new life for themselves. This escalates the divorce rate to fifty percent.

Caregivers often feel judged by others and find themselves hiding from society’s shameful gaze. This can lead to withholding of information and avoid attempting to get help from others. This can cause estrangement from the rest of the family while the caregivers rebuild their lives.

Prison Fellowship. 2019. Impact of Incarceration on Caregivers. https://www.prisonfellowship.org/resources/training-resources/family/ministry-basics/impact-of-incarceration-on-caregivers/

Keywords: Caregivers and incarcerated parents/ a shared sentence for caregivers

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