A new study has revealed that for many kids, parents in jail can be worse than divorce and death of a parent.
The study by University of California-Irvine found significant health problems, including behavioral issues, in children of incarcerated parents and also that, for some types of health outcomes, parental incarceration can be more detrimental to a child's well-being than divorce or the death of a parent.
Kristin Turney, an assistant professor of sociology at UC Irvine, said that poor people and racial minorities are incarcerated at higher rates than the rest of the population, and incarceration adversely affects the health and development of children who are already experiencing significant challenges.
The likelihood of having an incarcerated parent was especially high in certain groups like among black children with fathers without a high school diploma; about 50 percent would experience parental incarceration by age 14, compared with 7 percent of white children with similarly educated fathers.
When comparing children with similar demographic, socioeconomic, and familial characteristics, the study found that having a parent in prison or jail was linked to a greater incidence of attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), behavioral or conduct problems, learning disabilities, speech or other language problems, and developmental delays.
These findings have important implications for health professionals like physicians serving poor communities where incarceration would be common and in some cases it could be more consequential than other forms of parental absence like divorce.
The research will appear in the September edition of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.