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Correlating Incarcerated Mothers, Foster Care and Mother-Child Reunification

NCJ Number
Corrections Today Volume: 68 Issue: 6 Dated: October 2006 Pages: 98-100
Date Published
October 2006
3 pages

This article presents the preliminary findings of an ongoing National Institute of Justice (NIJ)-funded study on the relationship between a mother’s incarceration and the probability that her child would be placed in foster care.


Preliminary findings from the study conducted by researchers from the universities of Chicago and California indicated that 27 percent of incarcerated mothers had a child who had been placed in foster care at some point during the child’s life. Surprisingly, however, in 75 percent of the cases the children had been placed in foster care prior to the mother’s incarceration. In over 40 percent of these cases, the children entered foster care as many as 3 years prior to their mother’s incarceration. The findings also revealed that the children of incarcerated mothers were more likely than other children in foster care to be adopted, yet children of incarcerated mothers were also four times more likely to still be in foster care and “age out” of the system at age 18. The author recounts the challenges of studying the children of incarcerated parents and briefly reviews previous NIJ-funded research on at-risk children and their incarcerated parents. NIJ created a first-of-its-kind program uniting an adult correctional institution with a major youth service organization to create a parent-child visitation program called Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, which has received several awards and has been implemented across the country. The program has also been recently replicated by a boys’ youth service organization. Researchers from the universities of Chicago and California plan to continue their research on the relationship between child welfare and parental incarceration; some of their future research questions are listed and include research on the effects of a mother’s incarceration on the termination of parental rights. Endnotes

Date Published: October 1, 2006