Parental incarceration and the disruption of family relationships can produce negative outcomes for children, including poverty, poor academic performance, aggression, depression, delinquency, and substance abuse. Incarcerated mothers and fathers are unable to work on parenting skills that may be necessary for reunification, and separation interferes with the ability of parent and child to form or maintain a strong attachment.
Family-centered services for incarcerated parents, their children, and families focus on parenting programs, family strengthening activities, nurturing of family relationships, community supports for families during incarceration and following release, and gender-specific interventions. Resources include State and local examples.
Fathers for Life: Strengthening Families and Fatherhood: Children of Fathers in the Criminal Justice System
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (2011)
Developed with the goal of encouraging and supporting positive relationships of families with infants, toddlers, and preschool-aged children of incarcerated fathers or fathers on probation or parole.
Incarceration and Family Relationships: A Fact Sheet
National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (2010)
Provides data on the nature of family involvement among inmates; research on factors that strain family relationships when one partner is incarcerated; and describes some of the efforts underway to maintain marriages and parent-child relationships during incarceration.
Incarceration and CPS Involvement (PDF – 341 KB)
Berger, Cancian, Cuesta, & Noyes (2016)
Fast Focus (24)
Examines the intersection of parental incarceration and child CPS involvement and its influence on parents, children, and families.
Incarceration and the Family: A Review of Research and Promising Approaches for Serving Fathers and Families (PDF - 2007 KB)
Herman-Stahl, Kan, & McKay (2008)
Explores the characteristics of incarcerated individuals, their partner and parenting relationships, and the processes through which imprisonment and reentry may undermine these attachments in order to develop effective family strengthening programs and policies.
Meeting the Needs of Children With an Incarcerated Parent
Reckman, Gates, Schnug, & Rothstein (2012)
ABA Children's Rights Litigations
Encourages attorneys, social workers, and related professionals to acknowledge the significance of the child-parent relationship when working with children who have an incarcerated parent. This article also encourages cross-system collaboration and reflective practice.
Mothers in Prison: Maintaining Connections With Children
Mignon & Ransford (2012)
Social Work in Public Health: Special Issue: The Impact of Parental Incarceration on Children and Families, 27(1-2)
Identifies challenges to the development and maintenance of contact between incarcerated mothers and their children. The article includes recommendations for correctional agencies to enhance opportunities for incarcerated mothers to foster positive connections with their children.
A Voice for the Young Child with an Incarcerated Parent
Reckman & Rothstein (2012)
ABA Children's Rights Litigations
Evaluates the trauma of incarceration on parent and child interactions and offers strategies to overcome barriers to support healthy parent-child interactions in prison.
Arizona Family Members Behind Bars: Difficult Questions Children Ask and Answers That Might Help: A Caregiver's Guide to Arizona's Criminal Justice System From Arrest to Release
(PDF - 2,660 KB)
Arizona's Children Association & the Pima Prevention Partnership (2011)
Provides tips and suggestions to assist parents and other caregivers help children understand and cope with the impact of having a parent imprisoned in Arizona.
Beyond the Walls: A Guide to Services for Families Affected by Incarceration (PDF - 5857 KB)
Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (2009)
Describes available services to provide support and help families dealing with the incarceration of a family member.
Children's Justice Alliance
Seeks to improve outcomes for children whose parents are involved in the criminal justice system and supports initiatives to create systems change and parent leadership in Oregon.
Connecting Children with Incarcerated Parents (PDF - 268 KB)
Advocacy, Inc., Corinne Wolfe Children's Law Center, New Mexico CASA Network, New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department, New Mexico Citizen Review Board, & New Mexico Children's Court Improvement Commission (2011)
Child Protection Best Practices Bulletin: Innovative Strategies to Achieve Safety, Permanence, and Well-Being
Highlights current practices for parent-child contact visitation as well as identifies barriers to parent-child visits.
The Effects of Parental Incarceration on Children: Needs and Responsive Services (PDF - 1731 KB)
General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Joint State Government Commission (2011)
Includes information from research findings on the adverse effects of parental incarceration on children, and then proposed recommendations in the following areas: arrests and judicial proceedings, caregiver and support services, family and corrections interaction, and reentry and reunification.