What are the social effects of having an incarcerated parent? Chemical, Mental, and academic impact?

No one fills the sting of incarceration more than the child. Because of this, the effects, both short-term and long-term, can involve skipping needed healthcare, smoking, risky sexual behaviors, alcohol/drug abuse, both prescription and illegal. These problems affect more than five million children who have a parent in jail.

The loss of a mother to incarcerated as a double impact on the child than the father. With the U.S. having the highest incarceration in the world, children and even young adults have become the invisible victims in this shared sentence. African Americans have the highest rate of parental incarceration of roughly 34% with an incarcerated mother and 23% with a father. This shows that the U.S. has failed to address the indirect-costs of its citizens.

Parental-child attachment is easily disrupted by a parents incarceration. This leads to many social and behavioral problems in life. These problems come in many forms: Sadness, fear, guilt as a few examples of a child’s reactions. 

These can develop into emotions issues as well: Anger, aggression, failed friendships as school, depression, which can exasperate underlying problems bubbling under the surface of the psyche. Education Professor Glen Palm of St. Cloud State University, developed a two-step process to help decrease negative behaviors. 

  1. Understanding and Awareness: Often times, a caregiver doesn’t know how they should explain a parent’s absence to the child. Once the child has the situation known, they have a stronger chance of adapting to the new life-event.
  2. Visitation with the Incarcerated Parent: While reality differs from what’s portrayed on TV, children may not always understand why they have to wait extended periods before seeing their parent in prison. A lot of times, these visits limit close parent-child reactions.

Children with either parent incarcerated have a higher likelihood of experiencing physical and mental health problems.

  1. PTSD has an increase of 72%
  2. Anxiety increases by 51%
  3. High Cholesterol by 31%
  4. Asthma by 30%
  5. Migraines by 26%
  6. ADD/ADHD by 48%
  7. Behavioral Problems by 43%
  8. Depression by 43%
  9. Marijuana use by 43%
  10. Developmental delays by 23%
  11. Learning disabilities by 22%
  12. Delinquency by 10%

These increases have a profound effect on children with an incarcerated parent and can have long-term impacts that spill into adulthood. Their cognitive and noncognitive problems are directly linked to an incarcerated parent and create challenges for teachers and schools that are sometimes too difficult to overcome without some form of intervention. It’s an issue that educational lawmakers must address but have little to no experience in confronting. 

Children of incarcerated parents suffer from many social issues like chemical, mental, and even academic problems. Facing the problem head-on with education for the child and regular visits will help lower these problems and also lower the recidivism of the incarcerated parent. 

Muller, Robert T. May 7, 2015. When a Parent is Incarcerated. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-trauma/201505/when-parent-is-incarcerated

University of Minnesota Medical Board. July 17, 2018. Incarceration of Parents Impacts Health of Their Children Into Adulthood. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180717102807.htm

Keywords: Social effects of children with incarcerated parents/ Impact of incarcerated parents on their children

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