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Incarcerated Fathers and Their Sons:

Incarcerated Fathers and Their Sons A presentation exploring the short and long-term psychological effects on boys whose fathers have been incarcerated

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Researched and narrated by: Elizabeth Cornejo March 26, 2012 Azusa Pacific University EDCO 592/Dr. Crosby-Cooper

Abstract:

Abstract Fathers play an important role in their son’s life. They serve as the pillar for the family by providing strength, security and guidance. The absence of that source of stability can destroy a family, and can be detrimental to their children, especially their sons. When a father goes to jail, a boy is left without his role model and with many questions that are sometimes too difficult for them to make sense of. Research by Murray and Farrington, (2005 & 2008) shows that a father’s incarceration has damaging short-term as well as long-term psychological effects on a boy’s overall development. Through a variety of longitudinal studies which include third person, as well as self-reported surveys, interviews, and questionnaires, the dire effects of having an incarcerated father are confirmed. Being aware of those negative effects will help school counselors to better assist this at-risk population in the academic setting.

Introduction:

Introduction Estimates suggest that 1.5-2 million children nationwide have at least one incarcerated parent. An alarming ten million children have a parent with a history in the criminal justice system, making them one of the largest at-risk populations in the United States (Miller, 2006). For some boys, the simple notion that their father is in jail is enough to make them feel as if their whole world has fallen apart. According to Miller (2006) it is suggested that 30% of prisoners’ children experience mental health problems during childhood and adolescence, compared to about 10% of the general population which is why it is so important to shed light on this high-risk population.

Short Term Effects Internalizing problems:

Short Term Effects Internalizing problems According to the attachment theory, separation from a parent during childhood can negatively affect a child’s sense of security, and cause internalizing problems (Murray & Farrington, 2008). The internalizing problems can range from sleep disturbance, bedwetting, concentration problems, clinging behavior, sadness, low mood and withdrawal. When a boy is separated from his father for whatever the reason may be, there is always trauma and difficulty adjusting to the new lifestyle that comes as a result of the separation.

Internalizing (cont):

Internalizing (cont) Murray and Farrington (2008) suggest that a child may suffer from internalizing problems as a result of the life adversities following a traumatizing occurrence such as their father’s imprisonment. Parental imprisonment can precipitate a loss of family income, emotional stress among children’s caregivers, disrupted prisoner-caregiver relationships, and house and neighborhood moves. A study by Murray & Farrington (2008) consisting of 825 imprisoned men and 469 of their wives attempted to assess the most common problems resulting from a father’s incarceration. The results were not surprising; the wives experienced deterioration in their financial situations, 81% reported some deterioration in their work, 46% reported deterioration in their present attitude to marriage and future plans and 57% reported deterioration in relationships with friends and neighbors (Murray & Farrington, 2008). The added stress on the child’s caregiver, in this case their mothers, only creates bigger problems for the child who not only has to deal with his own questions and issues, but his mother’s as well.

A study on internalizing problems in boys:

A study on internalizing problems in boys A study conducted by Murray and Farrington (2008) attempted to prove that the incarceration of a father has dire effects on boys’ internalizing issues. Using longitudinal data from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development, the study attempted to prove the following three hypotheses; the main one being that parental imprisonment in childhood (ages 0-10) predicts boys’ internalizing outcomes through life course, the following being that separation because of parental imprisonment in childhood predicts more internalizing problems than parent-child separation for other reasons and the last hypothesis being that antisocial personalities mediate the relationship between parental imprisonment in childhood and later-life internalizing problems.

Internalizing problems study (cont):

Internalizing problems study (cont) The study by Murray and Farrington (2008) consisted of 411 males who were followed from the age of 8 to 48. Five mutually exclusive groups of boys were compared according to whether their parents were imprisoned and according to whether they were separated from a parent for other reasons. The experimental group consisted of 23 boys who experienced parental imprisonment in their first 10 years of life. The first control group consisted of 227 boys who did not experience separation from a parent in their first ten years of life and whose parents were not imprisoned at any time before the boys turned 18 years old. The second control group consisted of 77 boys whose parents were not imprisoned, but who experienced separation from their parent because of hospitalization or death. The third control group consisted of 61 boys whose parents were not imprisoned, but who experienced separation from their parent during their first 10 years of life for reasons like parent disharmony or divorce. The fourth and final control group consisted of 17 boys whose parents were imprisoned before the boys’ births, but not again between then and the boys’ 18th birthdays.

Results of the study on internalizing problems:

Results of the study on internalizing problems The results obtained through this longitudinal research by Murray & Farrington (2008) helped to prove that the imprisonment of a father caused internalizing problems for children that followed them through adulthood; 20% of boys (out of 359) suffered chronic internalizing problems through the life course. Boys separated because of parental imprisonment had higher rates of chronic internalizing problems than all four control groups. Of boys separated because of parental imprisonment, 55% experienced chronic internalizing problems, compared with 18% of boys who did not experience separation, 16% of boys separated because of hospitalization or death, 23% of boys separated for other reasons, and 21% of boys whose parent was only imprisoned before their births. Of boys separated because of parental imprisonment, 68% of them had co-occurring internalizing and antisocial problems at some point in their lives compared with 16% of boys who did not experience separation

Externalizing Behaviors:

Externalizing Behaviors All children are different and therefore will react to situations in different manners. For some children, it is easier to shut down and try to pretend that the situation is non-existent. For other children, the way in which they react to their father’s imprisonment is by lashing out and having aggressive tendencies. Studies conducted by Wildeman (2010) show that boys respond to paternal absence with increased externalizing behaviors which means that they will likely respond to their father’s incarceration with greater physical aggression. Growing up with a single parent, diminishing financial resources and facing social stigma are just some of factors that come into play when a child feels the need to lash out or become aggressive towards others

A study on externalizing behaviors:

A study on externalizing behaviors Attempting to prove the correlation between children’s aggressive behaviors and their father’s incarceration, a longitudinal study by Wildeman (2010) was conducted. Along with finding if there is a correlation, the researchers wanted to find out if those boys with fathers who went to jail for a violent offense displayed more aggressive behaviors than children whose fathers went to jail for a non-violent offense. Secondly, they wanted to find out if the aggression in children came as a result of the trauma itself that resulted from losing their father to jail. This study by Wildeman (2010) was aided by the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is a longitudinal birth cohort study following 4,898 children born in 1998-2000 in 20 cities with populations in excess of 200,000 and the majority of them were born to unmarried parents.

Results on the externalizing behaviors study :

Results on the externalizing behaviors study The researchers in the study by Wildeman (2010) conducted interviews with the children’s mothers in the hospitals shortly after giving birth, and after that again at the age of 1, 3 and 5. The dependent variable for the study was a standardized measure of children’s physically aggressive behaviors at the age of 5. Of course when conducting these types of studies in which the data received comes from the child’s caregiver, there’s always the question about the accuracy of the responses given. Nonetheless, according to the results of the study, there definitely exists a strong positive association between parental incarceration and a boy’s physical aggression. However, there was a stronger correlation between aggressiveness from the children who had fathers that were convicted of non-violent crimes as opposed to the children who had fathers convicted of violent crimes. Another finding from the study by Wildeman (2010) was that the change in family life and other major changes that the child may experience didn’t have a strong correlation with a child becoming physically aggressive. These findings lead me to believe that a child’s aggressiveness may result solely as a result of the trauma that comes from losing a father to prison.

Long Term Effects Criminality/Youth Incarceration:

Long Term Effects Criminality/Youth Incarceration . Depending on the nature of their father’s incarceration, some boys start developing feelings of guilt; for example, if the father was incarcerated for stealing, selling drugs, and/or prostituting to support the family. Miller (2006) proposes that when boys take on this burden, they may have long-term psychological issues of their belief concerning their culpability persist and is undisputed. Some of the consequences of those feelings result in maladaptive and contumacious behaviors such as withdrawing emotionally in school, truancy, pregnancy, drug abuse and diminished academic performance. For some children, these effects may be short-term, but for others, they will define their entire lives.

A study analyzing the connection between parental incarceration and youth delinquency:

A study analyzing the connection between parental incarceration and youth delinquency A study by Harper & McLanahan (2004) is a study that attempts to make the connection between parental incarceration and youth delinquency. The study was conducted using nationally represented panel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to determine whether or not there existed a correlation between parental absence and youth delinquency as well as incarceration. The sample used for the study was a probability sample which means that statistic generalizations can be made from observations on these individuals to other young people in America (Harper & McLanahan, 2004). The samples consisted of economically disadvantaged populations, as well as out-of-school teenagers, who have higher chances of both father absence and incarceration. The main research hypothesis of the study was that father absence increases the chances of father incarceration for male children, but there were also two other hypotheses that were presented. One of them was the low-income hypothesis which attempted to determine whether poverty was also a mediating factor. The other was the common background hypothesis which points to father absence increasing the chances of youth incarceration because it is closely connected to other predictors.

Parental incarceration and youth delinquency study (cont):

Parental incarceration and youth delinquency study (cont) The main research hypothesis of the study was that father absence increases the chances of father incarceration for male children, but there were also two other hypotheses that were presented. One of them was the low-income hypothesis which attempted to determine whether poverty was also a mediating factor. The other was the common background hypothesis which points to father absence increasing the chances of youth incarceration because it is closely connected to other predictors. The panel survey started in 1979 with a sample of 14 to 22 year olds (6,403 of them being males). The same group has been re-interviewed each year, covering the critical ages during the life course when the risk of incarceration emerges and then drops off

Results from the study of parental imprisonment and youth delinquency/incarceration:

Results from the study of parental imprisonment and youth delinquency/incarceration According to the results from the study by Harper & McLanahan (2004), 7.5% of the sample used was ever incarcerated. The overall results showed that youth incarceration risks were elevated in a father-absent household. Surprisingly, poverty didn’t have as high a correlation with youth incarceration as previously expected. There was however, a higher correlation of youth incarceration when other predictors were involved.

How can we help?:

How can we help? Studies conducted by Shillingford and Edwards (2008) show that from 1990 to 2004, the U.S. prison population almost doubled, from 773,919 to 1,468,601 and those prisoners were fathers to approximately 1.5 million children under the age of 18. With incarceration rates going up every year and more boys becoming “fatherless,” one can’t help but wonder, what will become of these vulnerable children? The school counselor has the possibility of helping such children who are in desperate need of someone that will help them make sense of everything that’s going on around them. The American School Counselor’s Association (2012) indicates that professional school counselors should assume leadership roles in advocating for students considered at risk, as in children with incarcerated fathers

School counselors applying choice theory when working with children whose fathers have been incarcerated:

School counselors applying choice theory when working with children whose fathers have been incarcerated Choice theory speculates that people are motivated by five basic needs: the need for survival, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. All of human behaviors are based on attempts to meet those needs (Edwards, 2009). Children of prisoners may experience trouble fulfilling those needs as a result of the added stress in their environment. One of the main principals of this theory is that people are social creatures that need and depend on each other. Therefore, according to this idea, love and belonging are two of the most important needs because closeness and connectedness with one’s social network is necessary to fulfill the five basic human needs. Based on this notion, choice theory promotes building connections with a valued social network as a critical component of child development and psychosocial well-being

Final thoughts :

Final thoughts When a father goes to jail, the whole family suffers, but the children are the ones who are the most affected. Not only do they have to deal with the pain of abruptly losing their father, but they also have to deal with the negative changes that come along as a result. The short and long-term psychological effects on a child can set the path for the rest of their lives. Taking into account that by the end of 2008, an alarming 1.5 million individuals were incarcerated in federal or state prisons in the United States, we can get an idea of just how many kids’ lives have been and continue to be affected (Cooper, Garfinkel, Geller, Mincy, & Schwartz-Soicher, 2011). Further research needs to be done to find out just how to effectively curve the effects that parental incarceration has on children. By taking a proactive approach and implementing a comprehensive counseling program for these at-risk children, the risks can be minimized. . Unfortunately, if these children are not helped, not only will the pay for their parent’s mistake, but they also run the risk of following in their father’s footsteps.

References:

References American School Counselor’s Association (ASCA) online. (2012) Retrieved April 11, 2006, from: http://schoolcounselor.org/index.asp . Bocknek, E., Sanderson, J., & Britner, P. (2009). Ambiguous loss and posttraumatic stress in school-age children of prisoners. Journal Of Child & Family Studies , 18 (3), 323-333. doi:10.1007/s10826-008-9233-y. Cooper, C.E., Garfinkel, I., Geller, A., Mincy, R.B. Schwartz-Soicher, O. (2011). Beyond absenteeism: father incarceration and child development. Columbia University School of Social Work.49:49–76 DOI 10.1007/s13524-011-0081-9. Edwards, O. W. (2009). A choice theory teaching and learning model for working with children of prisoners. Educational Psychology In Practice , 25 (3), 259-270. Harper, C.H., & McLanahan, S.S. (2004). Father absence and youth incarceration. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14 (3), 369-397.

References (cont):

References (cont) Miller, K. M. (2006). The impact of parental incarceration on children: an emerging need for effective interventions. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 23 (4), 472-486. doi:10.1007/s10560-006-0065-6. Murray, J., & Farrington, D. P. (2005). Parental imprisonment: effects on boys' antisocial behavior and delinquency through the life-course. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46 (12), 1269-1278. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2005.01433.x. Murray, J., & Farrington, D. P. (2008). Parental imprisonment: long-lasting effects on boys' internalizing problems through the life course. Development and Psychopathology, 20 (1), 273-90. doi:10.1017/S0954579408000138. Phillips, S. D., & Gates, T. (2011). A conceptual framework for understanding the stigmatization of children of incarcerated parents. Journal Of Child & Family Studies , 20 (3), 286-294.

References (cont):

References (cont) Shillingford, M., & Edwards, O. W. (2008). Professional school counselors using choice theory to meet the needs of children of prisoners. Professional School Counseling , 12 (1), 62-65. Wildeman, C. (2010). Paternal incarceration and children's physically aggressive behaviors: evidence from the fragile families and child wellbeing study. Social Forces, 89 (1), 285-09.

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