The Lost Children: Collateral Consequences of Parental Imprisonment
There are approximately 2.7 million children in America with parents who are incarcerated (Reilly, 2013). They are the lost children, the ones who are expected to live a normal life when nothing about their life is normal. How does parental incarceration effect a child? Effects are multidimensional, by examining the emotional, behavioral and social categories of development, one can assess the consequences of parental incarceration on children.
When a parent is incarcerated, it is usually at the end of a very tumultuous lifestyle, and children are, for all intents and purposes, abandoned. Yet, this abandonment is not the only deciding factor in developmental issues. “We know that children’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive needs change over the course of their development…the effects of a parent’s incarceration may vary dependent on the child’s age” (Shlafer, Gerrity, Ruhland, & Wheeler, 2013). However, focusing on early childhood it is known that “children gradually learn when and how to express emotions, becoming more capable in every aspect of their lives” (Berger, 2016). Parental lifestyle, prior to and culminating in incarceration, leaves children ill-equipped to deal with emotions. Children are often sent to live with various family members or even social services. “When interviewed, many caregivers and incarcerated mothers described children as detached, apprehensive, disoriented, and depressed” (Petsch & Rochlen). How does this effect the child? “Negative experience, whether social, environmental, or physical, occurring during the first ten years of a child’s life have the potential to influence a range of later outcomes” (Haskins, 2015-2016)....
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...ts of parental incarceration inflict lifelong damage to the children affected. The emotional damages caused by parental incarceration range from feelings of detachment, apprehension, disorientation and depression. Antisocial behaviors both internalized and externalized can be directly attributed to the feelings of depression. Socialization is also effected with parental incarceration. With a poor self-concept, a child is unable to follow appropriate social comparison with their peers. With the three aspects of emotional, behavioral, and socialization being hindered, children are at risk of intergenerational consequence, and could end up in prison themselves one day. These 2.7 million children make up generations of future men and women that are important members of our society. There must be some form of intervention before the ‘Lost Children’ are truly lost forever.
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