A recent study has shown that 1 in 14 kids from the United States have had a parent behind bars, and that figure is almost twice as high when it comes to African-American children.
The report was published online on Tuesday, October 27, by Child Trends, a nonprofit research center headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland.
According to the experts, whose primary mission is to provide insight into the well-being of kids and teenagers, the purpose of the study was to investigate “the prevalence of parental incarceration”.
The ultimate aim of the report, entitled “Parents Behind Bars: What Happens to Their Children”, was to determine the consequences of parental incarceration on the kids’ emotional development and comfort.
“We feel it’s important to put this on the radar screen” and allow people to “realize there’s more to it than the adults themselves”, explained David Murphey, co-author of the report and senior research scientist at Child Trends.
Experts reviewed 95,677 interviews, from the National Survey of Children’s Health, conducted between February 2011 and June 2012.
It was discovered that an unusually high number of children in the United States have had live-in parents who were imprisoned.
Such a case was 3 times more likely to be encountered among children from lower-income families, and it’s also more common in rural communities, it has been revealed.
Nowadays, around 2.7 million children have parents in prison, a staggering increase since 10 years ago, when just 60,000 cases were reported.
According to study authors, the number has grown because although the overwhelming majority of incarcerated parents consists of males, there are currently more female prisoners than before, many of them being behind bars after having reacted to instances of domestic violence.
Overall, more than 5 million young people have had to deal with this sort of situation at one point in their lives, and the impact has been devastating.
As study authors have revealed, the incarceration of a parent severely affected the child’s physical and psychological health, resulting in diminished self-esteem, developmental delays, poor academic performance, behavioral problems, juvenile delinquency and other troubling effects.
Such changes are significant even in the 6-to-11 age group, children in this category experiencing shame, depression and multiple difficulties of adjustment in school. Also, as the kids grow, the damage gains prominence, persisting into adulthood and beyond.
Even worse, this incarceration tends to occur at the same time with other traumatic circumstances, like living with a parent who is physically abusive or a drug addict, or going through the parents’ divorce or separation.
For example, more than a third of children with parents who have been in prison are affected by domestic violence, in comparison with one out of 20 of other kids. Also, over half of them have had to deal with their parents’ divorce, compared to one in six of other children.
The negative impact is particularly noticeable among African-American kids, given that one out of 9 of them have had to face a situation where their parent was behind bars.
Moreover, this percentage was even higher among those aged between 12 and 17, almost 14% of them having had to cope with having an incarcerated parent.
Study authors warn that in fact the numbers might be even more alarming, since the research didn’t include parents who didn’t live at home with their offspring.
Therefore, they urge schools, lawmakers and other authorities to become more involved in providing care and assistance to children who have to overcome such circumstances.
In addition, more prisons could implement special visitation programs, to allow children to bond with their incarcerated parents more easily.
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