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Pathways Linking Parental Incarceration and Child Well-being

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2016, $500,000)

Prior research on parental incarceration has documented negative effects on various forms of child well-being ranging from conduct problems to academic deficits and eventually, an intergenerational cycle of criminal justice involvement. Yet as the National Academy of Sciences committee report on incarceration recently concluded, existing research has not adequately assessed the range of other family circumstances and disadvantages that may co-vary with the parent's criminal justice system involvement and knowledge about basic mechanisms underlying incarceration effects remains markedly incomplete. The proposed research builds on a ten year mixed method longitudinal study (The Toledo Adolescent Relationships Study) that has focused on the lives of a large, diverse sample (n=1,321) of respondents interviewed first as adolescents and four additional times across the transition to adulthood.

New structured surveys (respondents will average 31 years of age), in-depth qualitative interviews with a 1 subset of parents, caregivers, and children, and records searches, combined with the large body of · previously collected data wilt provide a comprehensive basis for assessing the relative salience of specific hypothesized pathways. We address the following objectives: (1) Examine the effect of parental incarceration on a full range of child well-being outcomes for all children bom to the TARS study participants (n=approximately 1400). Long-form birth records wilt provide indicators of early health status and parenting behaviors (e.g., prenatal care) that will supplement parental reports of child behavior and well-being, and official records searches of both biological parents' criminal justice involvement will result in detailed, objective data on incarceration histories. The longitudinal design and analyses will account for the patterning and seriousness of the parents' criminal behavior and permit key comparisons (e.g., to youth whose parents experienced less restrictive forms of system contact). (2) Expand the lens beyond the focal parent to determine whether variability in crime and incarceration exposure across the child's full network (including multigenerational patterns of incarceration) explains additional variance in child well-being outcomes. (3) Examine incarceration-specific hypotheses to identify mediating mechanisms, including consequences of incarceration for changes in economic circumstances, social relationships, and perceived stress/stigma. (4) Complete in-depth interviews with parents, caregivers, and children who have experienced parental incarceration to determine whether their perspectives accord with results of the quantitative data and vary based on position within the family. Finally, quantitative and qualitative analyses will focus on potentially malleable sources of family strengths and child resilience in the face of what is often a formidable nexus of disadvantage. ca/ncf

Date Created: September 19, 2016