Children of inmates are considered at risk of being more susceptive to future incarceration due to parent’s imprisonment, with the resulting trauma negatively affecting children’s education, health and social relationships. Studies conducted on the effects of parental incarceration in students’ lives show that this circumstance is a hidden problem in many schools seeing as it is difficult to track and discuss with students and caregivers.
While there are support programs for the incarcerated, there aren’t many that focus on the collateral damage and the impact it has on their family members. According to Education Week, “there are strong racial disparities: Forty-five percent of children of incarcerated parents are black, compared with 28 percent who are white and 21 percent who are Hispanic.”
Regardless of the reason for a parent’s incarceration, their children are at a higher risk of educational disadvantages that may be invisible and contribute to racial and poverty gaps. According to studies, children of incarcerated parents have higher rates of attention deficit, behavioral problems, and other developmental delays than children with parents missing due to death or divorce. Even though most of the studies focus on the long-term damage that parental incarceration causes, there are few studies that research the effects of sibling incarceration on students that may also lead to struggles with grief, stress and social stigma.
Having an incarcerated member of the family is a risk factor considered as one of the key “adverse childhood experiences” that “contribute to significant health, educational, and social problems for children even decades later.” It is apparent from different research that the underlying factors of parent incarceration and the subsequent negative effects on their children are still unknown. It may be the economic hardships that arise from an incarcerated parent, the stigma at school, and the stress or fear of becoming just like their parents that contribute to problems in the long-term.
As previously mentioned, there is an increasing number of after school programs –POPS and the U.S. Dream Academy- that aim to support children of incarcerated parents. The aim of these programs is to buffer “the academic and emotional effects of having a family member in prison” by providing homework support that may be lacking due to a missing parent.