This policy brief explores the impact of parental incarceration on young children and how communities, social service agencies, health care providers, and the criminal justice system can work collaboratively to better meet the needs of the families left behind. It begins by discussing the characteristics of incarcerated parents and the consequences of imprisonment on children. It cites research indicating short-term effects on children including: feelings of shame, social stigma, loss of financial support, weakened ties to the parent, change in family composition, poor school performance, increased delinquency, and increased risk of abuse or neglect. Long-term effects range from the questioning of parental authority, negative perceptions of police and the legal system, and increased dependency or maturational regression to impaired ability to cope with future stress or trauma, disruption of development, and intergenerational patterns of behavior. The impact of imprisonment on family dynamics and the challenge of maintaining parent-child contact are also examined, along with challenges of reunification and reintegration. The need for social service agencies to coordinate services to respond to the needs created by the criminal justice process is stressed, and agency collaboration is recommended. A list of additional resources is provided. 3 figures and 32 references.
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