Children of incarcerated parents are six times more likely to develop a substance use disorder as adults and nearly twice as likely to have diagnosable anxiety, compared to kids without incarcerated parents, according to a new study from the Center for Child and Family Policy at the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy.
The findings, published in JAMA Network Open, also show that kids with incarcerated parents are more likely to encounter significant hurdles transitioning into adulthood, including being charged with a felony (35% vs. 11.5%), dropping out of high school (25.5% vs. 5.0%), becoming a teenage parent (14.3% vs. 2.8%), experiencing financial strain (37.2% vs. 17.5%), and being socially isolated (24.5% vs. 9.4%).
“The increased risk for adverse adult outcomes remained after accounting for childhood psychiatric status and other adversities, suggesting that parental incarceration is associated with profound and long-lasting effects for children,” said co-author William E. Copeland of the University of Vermont, who conducted the research while at Duke.
“This increased risk persisted whether the incarcerated parent was biologically related to the child or not. Risk for adverse adult outcomes increased further with each additional incarcerated parent figure.”
The United States has among the highest incarceration rates in the world. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that over half of those who are incarcerated are parents of children under age 18.
More than 2.7 million children have a parent in jail or prison, so it is critical to understand the long-term health and social implications of incarceration for children, the researchers say.
The research team analyzed data gathered between 1993 and 2015 on the life experiences of children from the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina from age nine until age 30.
Researchers considered all adults who had significant responsibility for the child’s discipline or care to be “parental figures.” The team also interviewed families as many as eight times during childhood.
Using those methods, the researchers identified a higher prevalence of incarceration by parental figures (23.9 percent) than the 8 to 11 percent previously documented in other population-based studies.
Incarceration rates for parental figures were higher among racial and ethnic minorities: 47.9 percent among American Indians and 42.7 percent among African-Americans, compared with 21.4 percent among whites. Parental incarceration cases overwhelmingly involved fathers (87.9 percent).
“Our findings point to the potentially high societal costs of incarcerating children’s caregivers — potentially for generations to come,” said lead author Beth Gifford of Duke University.
“From a public health perspective, preventing parental incarceration could improve the well-being of children and young adults, as could aiding children and families once a parent figure has been incarcerated.”
Source: Duke University