Stressors associated with parental justice system involvement

  • Secrecy around a parent’s arrest and incarceration is common in the US and around the world because parental justice involvement is so stigmatized
  • Children’s at-home caregivers play an important role in communicating with children about the parent’s absence
    • Sometimes caregivers engage in what is termed “compassionate deception.” In an attempt to protect children from stigma associated with a parent’s incarceration, adults make up a story about where the parent is, such as the parent is at work, in the military, in a hospital, or at school
      • This occurs more frequently when children are very young
      • Although compassionate deception might initially be easier to communicate to children, it often leads to more questions that are difficult to answer such as “why can’t I visit my parent?” or “why doesn’t my parent visit me?”
      • In several small-scale studies, adult use of compassionate deception related to less attachment security between children and their caregivers and less positive visiting experiences
    • Usually children find out about the parent’s arrest or incarceration directly or indirectly from family members or at school
    • There are books and other materials that can help caregivers and other adults talk with children about a parent’s arrest or incarceration in a sensitive way
  • Visiting in some corrections settings—such as when a barrier separates the parent and child– can be challenging for children
    • Young children do not understand why they can’t touch their parent
    • It is difficult to hear the parent
    • Young children spend time watching other visits rather than participating
    • Long wait times are associated with children’s behavior issues during visits
  • Child-friendly visits, when there is parent-child physical contact, activities, snacks, and supportive adults present, is a positive way for children to visit with their incarcerated parents (prisons are more likely to offer such visits than jails)
  • Remote video visits, when a child stays at home and can chat with the parent through a tablet, computer, or phone, is a positive way to connect as a supplement to in-person visits. Click on this link to read more

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