A parent’s arrest, even if it does not lead to incarceration, can also be challenging for children

HBCD: Building Positive Interactions with Justice-Involved Families in Child Development Research > "We Are Just Kids" > A parent’s arrest, even if it does not lead to incarceration, can also be challenging for children

Arrest of a family member and child behavior problems

For example, a study of 306 children aged 0 to 11 years who were enrolled in early childhood mental health systems of care in the northeastern U.S found that 21% of children experienced the arrest of a family member (usually a parent)

  • The children who experienced the arrest of a family member were more likely to experience other potentially traumatic events
  • After controlling for other traumas, parental arrest was associated with more child behavior problems

Roberts, Y. H., Snyder, F. J., Kaufman, J. S., Finley, M. K., Griffin, A., Anderson, J., … & Crusto, C. A. (2014). Children exposed to the arrest of a family member: Associations with mental health. Journal of Child and family Studies, 23, 214-224.

Arrest of a parent for drug- or alcohol-related offenses

A recent analysis used data from the ABCD study to examine parental arrests and child behavior.

  • At the first wave of ABCD data collection, 12.5% of youth had a parent who had been arrested for an issue related to drugs or alcohol. Of these youth:
    • 75.2% experienced the arrest of their father
    • 16.2% experienced the arrest of their mother
    • 11.4% experienced the arrest of both parents
  • Youth who experienced parental arrest exhibited higher levels of both internalizing and externalizing behaviors, especially when their mother had been arrested, compared to their peers and controlling for a number of other risk factors (Johnson et al., 2022).
  • It is unknown how many youth in the ABCD study witnessed their parent’s arrest, however, as those data were not collected

Johnson, E. I., Planalp, E. M., & Poehlmann-Tynan, J. (2022). Parental arrest and child behavior: Differential role of executive functioning among racial subgroups. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 31(7), 1933-1946.

Course Syllabus

Not Enrolled
Scope of the Issue
Does the US really incarcerate more people than any other country in the world?
How has the number of people incarcerated in the US changed over time?
Key terms
How many people are arrested each year in the US?
Why are there such stark racial and economic inequities in incarceration in the US?
What role do jails play in mass incarceration?
How many people are on probation or parole?
How many women are incarcerated in the US?
Section 1 Quiz
Intersecting Vulnerabilities
What proportion of people who are incarcerated have health and mental health concerns?
What proportion of people who are incarcerated have substance use disorders?
Co-occurence of mental health and substance use disorders in people who were arrested
How are biomedical scientists re-envisioning how the justice system responds to the opioid crisis?
Pregnant women and substance use disorder
Nora’s blog: Pregnant people with substance use disorders need treatment, not criminalization
Section 2 Quiz
"We Are Just Kids"
How many parents are incarcerated in the US?
How many children have a parent incarcerated in jail or prison in the US?
Where do children live during parental incarceration?
Parental incarceration as an adverse childhood experience
What child outcomes are associated with parental incarceration?
Is parental incarceration ever helpful for children?
Does parental incarceration affect children differently depending on the child’s age at the time of the experience?
What is associated with increased stress for children with incarcerated parents?
A parent’s arrest, even if it does not lead to incarceration, can also be challenging for children
Racial Inequities in Arrests
Stressors associated with parental justice system involvement
Stressors and recidivism
Resilience processes for children are more likely when ...
From Stigma to Support
Studies on stigma and incarceration
The language that we use
Can you change your thinking?
Sesame Street in Communities
Listening to youth voices
What can HBCD teams do to support justice-involved families in research?
How policies can respond to parental incarceration
Further reading
Section 4 Quiz
Closing video