Children of prisoners - maintaining family ties
Literature review - The effects of parental imprisonment on children
Early studies of prisoners’ children suggested that parental imprisonment might cause a range of adverse outcomes for children, including aggressive behaviour, depression, anxiety, sleeping problems, eating problems, running away, truancy, poor school grades, and delinquency (7–13). These, and other more recent qualitative studies (14–16 and 17–19) have raised important questions about child adjustment following parental imprisonment. Four key research questions that are addressed in this review are:
- Is parental imprisonment associated with adverse outcomes for children?
- Does parental imprisonment cause adverse outcomes for children?
- Why might parental imprisonment cause adverse outcomes for children?
- Why do some children have poor outcomes while others lead normal lives?
Given the large increase in rates of imprisonment in Western industrialized countries, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom (20), these questions should have been investigated in large-scale longitudinal studies tracing child adjustment from before parental imprisonment into adulthood. However, unlike research on the effects of divorce on children (on which, see 21, 22, 23), there are very few large-scale studies of prisoners’ children, reflecting pervasive social exclusion of this vulnerable population (24). Findings from large-scale studies of parental imprisonment are summarised here (25, more lengthy reviews of the research can be found in 26). Frequent reference is made to findings from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (the Cambridge Study). The Cambridge Study is a prospective longitudinal study of 411 boys who were born in 1953 and were living in a working-class area of South London at age eight to nine – for overviews of the study, see 27, 28). Study male outcomes have been assessed between childhood and age 50 using parents’ reports, teachers’ reports, self-reports, and criminal records of the study males.