Academic journal article Family Relations

Examining Social Support among Adult Children of Incarcerated Parents

Academic journal article Family Relations

Examining Social Support among Adult Children of Incarcerated Parents

Article excerpt

Approximately 1.7 million minor children in the United States have a parent serving time in state or federal prison (U.S. Department of Justice, 2008). Researchers who study this population have found that parental incarceration is related to a variety of deleterious outcomes for children (Arditti, 2012; Wakefield & Wildeman, 2014), including educational problems (Cho, 2011; Foster & Hagan, 2009) and antisocial behavior (Kjellstrand & Eddy, 2011; Murray, Farrington, & Sekol, 2012). Parental incarceration, which may also be coupled with economic disadvantage and inconsistent living arrangements (Geller, Garfinkel, Cooper, & Mincy, 2009), can be an extremely difficult experience for children. Overall, the body of literature that has examined the "collateral consequences" (Hagan & Dinovitzer, 1999) of incarceration on families paints a very grim picture of the life chances for children of incarcerated parents.

Research that primarily focuses on risks and negative outcomes limits our ability to develop effective policies and interventions; we also need to understand what promotes and contributes to positive outcomes for this population. Scholars know very little about children of incarcerated parents who manage to "overcome the odds" (Werner & Smith, 1992) and achieve normative success (Arditti, 2012; Poehlmann & Eddy, 2013). In particular, Poehlmann and Eddy recommended that researchers begin "to examine protective factors and resilience processes in children with incarcerated parents, especially in the areas of interpersonal relationships" (p. 3). To help fill this gap in the literature, in this study I examined a sample of adult children of incarcerated parents who can be defined as educationally resilient on the basis of their college enrollment. Specifically, in this exploratory research I investigated how social support from caring adults can promote resilience.

I begin by reviewing research on the challenges and risks faced by children of incarcerated parents. Next, I review key findings on resilience that address how populations at risk for negative outcomes adapt in positive ways. I demonstrate how findings from the resilience literature on the role of social support and turning points can be applied to understand participants' ability to pursue higher education in light of parental incarceration. Furthermore, I draw from work by Giordano (2010), Nesmith and Ruhland (2008), and Poehlmann and Eddy (2010, 2013) that highlights how interpersonal relationships may promote resilience among this population. Taken together, this literature provides a framework for understanding how social support can contribute to resilience among children of incarcerated parents.

Children of Incarcerated Parents and Resilience

When parents are incarcerated, children's lives are commonly disrupted (Travis, 2005). They may experience changes in their living situations and primary caregivers, in particular in cases of incarcerated mothers (Davies, Brazzell, La Vigne, & Shollenberger, 2008; Travis & Waul, 2003; U.S. Department of Justice, 2000). Furthermore, parental incarceration may result in financial difficulties for families (Geller, Garfinkel, & Western, 2011). Throughout parental incarceration, children may have trouble maintaining their relationships with their incarcerated parents because of a lack of support from caregivers or difficulty finding transportation to the prison (Davies et al., 2008). In addition to changes in their day-to-day living situations and relationships with their parents, these children may be stigmatized by their parents' criminal behavior and incarceration (Adalist-Estrin, 2006; Siegel, 2011). Children can face further difficulties reuniting with their parents upon their release from jail or prison (Davies et al., 2008; Siegel, 2011). In sum, parental incarceration can be a challenging experience for children.

Parental incarceration is linked to elevated child risk in numerous areas. …

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