The Mental Health and Well-Being of Children of Incarcerated Parents

Children who have a parent in jail or prison are prone to unique stresses that do not impact many of their peers whose parents are not incarcerated. An estimated 1.7 million children have a parent in prison at any given time within the United States. Correlation has been found between incarcerated parents (both present and past) and higher rates of arrest, substance abuse, and school and behavioral problems. Children of incarcerated parents are also more than twice as likely to be incarcerated themselves. Reaching out to provide support for these children is essential, says Julie Poehlmann from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Human Ecology. Her research shows that if children bond with a caregiver, they are more likely to avoid negative outcomes. But the majority of children need additional outreach, which at this point, schools and other agencies are not able to provide.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • patrick


    August 12th, 2010 at 3:41 AM

    children learn everything from their parents and if there is no one to guide them and mend them they will obviously walk the wrong path and eventually end up in trouble.i am not surprised that children whose parents are in prison are more likely to end up doing the wrong things.

  • Lance


    August 12th, 2010 at 10:20 AM

    It can be very hard on a child to know that his parents are labelled as ‘criminals’ by the society and it can be a major embarrassment to have a parent in jail.

    All these things act upon the child’s psyche in a combined manner and are sure to disrupt the general well-being of the child’s mental state.

  • LaShelle


    November 11th, 2015 at 8:37 AM

    I am an author of a children’s book called, “Hooray! Hooray! Dad’s on His Way.” The book is geared toward young children and teenagers, who have or had an incarcerated parent. The book is designed to initiate discussion to have the child verbalize how they are impacted by being separated from their parent due to incarceration. The book provides that child and family unit, with resources to strengthen the family unit.

    As a Licensed Social Worker and Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor, I have worked and volunteered with juveniles and adults in the correctional population for close to 10 years. I know the book will be a great resource. Please check out my website for more information.

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