When parents are incarcerated, they often leave children behind. In 1999, an estimated 721,500 state and federal prisoners were parents to nearly 1.5 million children under age 18. Who cares for children when a parent is incarcerated, and the services they and their caregivers receive, are clearly pressing issues. The needs that children have, and where these children are placed during a parent's incarceration-whether with the other parent, with a grandparent, relative, or in foster care-may have important implications for how children fare during a parent's incarceration. Elizabeth Johnson and Jane Waldfogel, in their JCPR working paper, Children of Incarcerated Parents, examine the risk factors facing children of incarcerated parents and how these factors relate to children's living arrangements during incarceration. The authors analyze data from the 1997 Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities on 6,870 fathers and 2,047 mothers who were incarcerated in state or federal prison in 1997 and who had at least one child under age 18. They examine eight documented risk factors for poor developmental outcomes to determine what, if any, association exists between these risk factors and children's placements. The risk factors are low parent education, parental substance use, parents' mental health or emotional problems, low socioeconomic status, parental history of sexual or physical abuse, past incarceration of parent or grandparent, and a parent's own history of foster care. Identifying links between risk factors and living arrangements, the authors suggest, can guide service providers in tailoring and coordinating services for these children. (Author abstract)
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