California State University, Los Angeles

Final Paper: Parental Incarceration: The Negative effects of separation on a child
Evelyn Coria
November 3, 2012
SW 510A
Professor Bae
Lack of a parent or a caregiver causes adverse psychological problems, which later shift to poor development both physically and mentally. These children develop low self esteem, poor academic performance, and even depression. However, there is a variation in the magnitude of the effects on children, meaning that, some are at a greater risk than others. The issue of Children of Incarcerated Parents (CIP) is posing a major challenge to the families, community and even in global context. United States leads the other nations in the issue of incarceration, where it has witnessed a huge increase in incarceration cases. U.S. has recorded a staggering 500 % rise in rate of incarceration, with an increase of 500 % in the past 30 years (Carpenter et al, 2010).
1.1 Statement of the problem
Incase a mother is jailed, the kids are less likely to have their father take care of them, and their daily life pattern is likely to be disrupted to the extent of being separated from their incarcerated primary caregiver who is the mother. Thus, the children are more likely to fall under the care of other family members or relatives who include grandmothers, aunts or even another woman who will assume the role of primary caregiver. (Mumola, 2000 Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). Apparently, most of the researchers dwell too much on problems of imprisoned parents, leaving the children well-being unattended. Available data on these children is an insult to the key stakeholders in the children welfare sector.
According to Mumola (2000), 65% of the total female incarcerates have children, with 6% of them being jailed while pregnant. This is a worrying trend. For example, take a case of a woman who is incarcerated having been 5 months pregnant. If such a woman is jailed for 10 years, it means that the child will spend most of his/her early developmental stage without the care of his/her parent. The data concerning the inmates indicate that the percentage of incarcerated people in each survey, have been in prison for the past one year for the first time. The available data can reveal clear evidence that, children born would experience parental incarceration. Racial differences in United States imply that a bigger proportion of African American children will have their parents jailed. African American children have a greater chance of having their parent incarcerated by the time they reach adolescence.
Effects of separation
Separation is a fundamental threat to the children`s well being. The child will always express fear, angry protests, and desperate efforts to find the missing parents. The eventual result will be expression of sadness and despair (Cassidy & Shaver, 2008). However, after sometimes the child is bound to regain composure, become detached and less emotionally expressive. The disruption of the bond will cause emotional damage to the child.
Imprisonment of the parent brings negative emotions such as frustration and fear every time the child sees his/her parent in jail (Nesmith & Ruland, 2008). It is of paramount importance to encourage the child to speak about the trauma he/she faces due to his/her parent incarceration. If expressions are inhibited, the child will develop psychological distress, which may cause poor health. Nevertheless, lack of regular caregiver can bring deregulation in a number of physiological systems. The deregulation can alter the pattern of sleep angd feeding which will cause an injury to the cardiac, and even destroy immune systems. Therefore, when the connection is either detached or not functioning, the normal growth and development of a child will be interfered with.
According to the findings, children whose parents are incarcerated lose the skills that they had already acquired prior to the arrest, such as potty training and speaking. As a result of the separation children experienced cognitive and language regression to demonstrate that they were afraid. The traumatic separation had such a negative impact on the child that they felt they wanted to return to a moment when they felt safe prior the trauma. Children returned to time when they felt safe when they were babies a time when their mothers protected them and met their needs. As a result, they act like children and think that their mothers will come back and protect them again. Since children cannot express their feelings they wet their pants and use baby talk.
They also think that wetting their pants and doing baby talk will ensure that their needs are going to be met by their primary caregivers, the way they used to be met prior to the traumatic arrest. When they were infants they knew that their needs were met by their parents, therefore, by acting like infants once again they think that their parents are going to come back to cater to them. One fifth of the children in the study showed that their developmental highlights were vulnerable to danger when their parents were arrested and as a result were affected.
2.1 Children`s response to detachment.
The child will disengage him/herself from the community. Socially, the child will decrease the quality of play and exploration in the absence of her mother (Ainsworth & Wittig`s, 1969).Parental imprisonment affects children due to separation. Children will have stigma due to loss of family earnings. Nevertheless, the actual figure of affected children is unidentified because this information is not analytically collected by jails, juvenile departments, schools, child welfare systems, or other systems. These children of imprisoned parents are at risk of destructive social and educational outcomes, as well as internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, drug abuse, adult offending and imprisonment, and absenteeism (Murray et al, 2009).
Deactivated children switch attention from negative feelings, hold back the feelings of anguish and will not show the depressing state to the caregiver. Such development will translate to a coping approach based evasion of intimidating situations as growth progresses, this approach may take a broad view and lead to condensed attentiveness of one`s own unenthusiastic emotions and feelings.
Attachment theories
The biological basis of the attachment theory, usually describes the evolutionary roots of attachment behavior. Attachment behavior increases the proximity of the child to the attachment figure (Cassidy & Shaver, 2008). There are various biological bases of attachment. Some attachment behaviors include vocalizing, crying, smiling, approaching, and following. In conclusion, attachment can be said to be a common and a good characteristic of human beings throughout their life, rather than a sign of childishness that needs to be outgrown (Cassidy & Shaver, 2008). Therefore, despite the incarceration of a mother, a mobile child may achieve the goal of establishing contact by moving to see his/her mother (Cassidy & Shaver, 2008), even in prison.
The attachment behavioral system enables a person to respond flexibly to the environmental changes while trying to attain a goal (Cassidy & Shaver, 2008). According to Cassidy & Shaver (2008) a child may is capable of considering changes in the mother`s location when trying to maintain attachment with her. They continue to argue that, when separation is too great in distance or time, the attachment system becomes activated, and when sufficient attachment is achieved, the attachment system is terminated. The child usually has more than one attachment figure. This is what we call multiple attachments. The child can tolerate major separations from subsidiary figures with less distress, as compared to separation from the principal figure. In addition, the child cannot substitute the principal figure with several other attachment figures (Cassidy & Shaver, 2008).
Attachment theory is a psychological theory of human being relations (Bowlby, 1988). The theory conceptualizes that people are inter connected with one another psychologically, and in close relationships there is a widespread influence on children`s growth by the way they are treated by their parents, mostly by their mothers and a theory of developmental pathways can enlighten on later tendencies in relationship based on such early experiences. Attachment theory regards intimacy as a fundamental part of human character, present in germinal form from infancy onward. Close contacts with parents and caregivers play a distinctive role in shaping children`s affective and emotional life (Cassidy & Shaver, 2008), a lot of research has focused on the association between attachment patterns and the development of emotional competence.
Infants are created to develop a set of behavioral patterns that, given the correct environment, will result in maintenance of close proximity to those who provide care. Children`s initial relationships with their mothers are considered by attachment theorists to generate a template that shapes our expectations for potential relationships. The mother serves as a primary model for human existence, units of meaning of human behavior, the face and voice of human, and the connection between one`s own behavior and someone else`s behavior.
Inside their first two months of life, infants do not care who responds to them when they cry as long as somebody does. Between the ages of 3-6 months, they begin to be more discriminatory. When they are in distress, they direct their bids for relieve to one or two primary caregivers. When they are six and eight months, they become very picky about who responds them, particularly when they are in distress. The primary caretaker is the mother for almost all infants. It often comes as a surprise to fathers when a child no longer seems at ease around them and suddenly starts to cry every time his or her mother departs. This change occurs when a child is learning to crawl. When an infant develops the ability to stroll away from his or her mother, the infant has recognized the kind of attachment that makes him or her to keep track of the mother`s location and resist separations from her. This is the point where the child is completely attached to his or her primary caregiver.
Psychodynamic theory focuses on how a child`s instinctual mind interacts with their social environment and the important people in it to produce many characteristics and behaviors. A child`s mind is seen as a vibrant and active force. It has definite characters, many of which are inborn, that make the child to act in certain a manner. In addition, mechanisms of the brain interact with each other the result of these interactions manipulates how a child thinks, feels, and behaves. The psychodynamic theory states that all human beings are born with certain instincts, which they live with until death. These instincts influence human behaviors every day and they are what make us think, feel, and behave in distinct ways rather than following the world around us. When the environment around us interferes with these instincts, conflicts arise. Our instincts and the world around us are always in conflict and this makes us stay tense every time. In this case, when a parent is imprisoned, the child is bound to have conflict with the society that has imprisoned his/her parent.
Designs of Intervention.
Children`s attachment relationships and contact with parents are considered part of child`s micro system. Previous research has found that early attachment quality is an important predictor of children`s later social and emotional functioning. A child who has acquired a secure attachment will want to make that connection his/her comfort. When an intimidating situation arises, the child will run to his/her area of attachment to look for comfort. In contrast, insecure, and especially disorganized, attachments are considered risk factors for emerging psychopathology (Thompson, 2008).
For children of incarcerated parents, key micro system processes that are important for the development of secure attachments and other competencies involve care giving interactions that occur within the home (Poehlmann, Park, et al., 2008) as well as ongoing contacts with incarcerated parents (Poehlmann, 2005b). The child`s home may be different from the environment that he or she lived prior to the parent`s imprisonment, because of changes in caregivers and economic disruption (Arditti, Lambert- Shute, & Joest, 2003). Child characteristics such as age are also important. In the analysis of 2007 national prisoner data, 38% of children with parents in prisons were four years of age or younger (Glaze and Maruschak, 2008). Figures for 1989 showed that nearly 1% of U.S. children under four years of age had a parent in jail (Kemper & Rivara, 1993). These statistics suggest that many children experience parental incarceration while in the process of forming primary attachments.
Comparable national statistics are not available for jailed parents, although results from smaller samples suggest considerable variation in levels of parent – child contact during parental jail stays (Arditti, 2003). In theoretical model, visitation between children and incarcerated parents is seen as the most proximal form of contact, and thus it may have the greatest effects on children`s attachment relationships and well-being. However, when children talk on the phone with or engage in written correspondence with their incarcerated parents, these experiences become part of the child`s proximal context as well. In addition, multiple levels of contextual influence affect children`s proximal experience of contact.
Several intervention programs are in the offing. Their sole aim is to mould a positive child, strengthen the relationship between the child and his/her incarcerated parent(s). The program may be run at a micro system level where only the family members are involved. i.e. a child focused intervention, a parent education program, and parent-child interventions. I am going to focus on the child-focused interventions, which include mentoring programs, support groups and therapeutic counseling. All these interventions should aim at promoting positive socio-emotional functioning of children with incarcerated parents. Children often visit their parents in jail.
4.1 Interventions through children`s visit to the prison
Poehlmann (2005) found associations between visits with parents in corrections facilities and representations of insecure attachment relationships in children ranging from 2.5 to 14 years of age. In the study, the visitation environment was described as not child friendly. Therefore, we can conclude that the quality of visits is likely to be affected by the prison settings. These situations vary from child friendly to highly stressful, thus affecting children`s attachment security.
A study examining the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars intervention, which includes an enhanced visitation component, found that nearly all caregivers interviewed reported some decrease in girls` problem behaviors following the intervention (Block & Potthast, 1998). The methodological severe ratings were similar across studies focusing on contact in relation to child behavior issues and pre-school performance. Rather than reflecting a difference in study quality, perhaps these mixed findings reflect variations in the assessment of contact used, underscoring the importance of differentiating among types of parent – child contact in relation to child outcomes.
To further examine different types of parent – child contact and children`s school functioning, conducted interviews with 30 teachers who described the behaviors of children with incarcerated parents and conducted qualitative analysis of the interviews. Teachers said that following a weekend when children had visited their incarcerated parents, the children had trouble concentrating when they returned to school. The teachers also made several positive comments about mail correspondence between incarcerated parents and children (Dallaire, Ciccone, & Wilson 2010).
As such initiatives take hold, more innovative programs that may improve parent – child contact as well as provide better opportunities should be set up. My review suggests that several of the contradictory findings regarding the benefits, or lack of contact may be explained by differences in the hospitality of the visitation environment or the presence of an intervention to increase visitation quality.
However, visitation with children may not yield these anticipated benefits in the child`s adjustment if the interaction between the child and the incarcerated parent is marked by emotional distress. In correction facilities with unpleasant visitation environments, the positive connection between parent – child contact and better adjustment on the part of the child may be undermined. Because communities of color and impoverished communities have been strongly affected by increases in imprisonment rates, interventions focusing on decreasing racial and educational disparities in arrest, sentencing, and imprisonment rates are needed.
At the micro system level, the importance of child characteristics (e.g., age, behavior problems), interactions with parents and caregivers, and attachment patterns is always highlighted. The age of the child is a relevant aspect of the micro system. For example, children`s mixed feelings about contact may be expressed in different ways depending on their age. Young children are likely to express their bewilderment in an unclear way, and may not be able to express their fears verbally (Poehlmann, 2005). Open communication about contact and efforts to honor children`s feelings in sensitive ways can promote secure attachment (Poehlmann, 2005) as well as strengthen the co-parenting alliance concerning contact issues.
The child`s attachment relationships with the imprisoned parent are key micro system elements that relate to contact. Though visits in jail settings that are not pleasant to a child can evoke grief and expressions of insecurity, lack of any contact with parents may be problematic and linked to feelings of hostility (Shlafer & Poehlmann, 2010). The question is not simply whether engagement has constructive or unconstructive effects on children, but rather, what are the circumstances that uphold children`s interests and feelings of security when parents are in prison?
Initiating visitation right away in these situations may be contraindicated if the child expresses fears or distress (Shlafer & Poehlmann, 2010). Mail communication can be exchanged with visits or other means of communicating if visitation is not possible. Mail correspondence offers flexibility, is cheap, and involves an aspect of control, reflection, and planning that can potentially benefit imprisoned parents, children, and caregivers. Family members as well as child psychologists, attorneys, and social workers query whether children ought to get in touch with imprisoned parents and convey concerns about how and when contact occurs, who regulates contact, what types of engagements are viable and desirable, and the effects of engagement on children.
Child attachment and visitation may present an opportunity for the parent and the child to develop a strong bond. When visits occur, one must consider the institutional environment (Arditti, 2003), which appears to contribute to visitation quality and children`s feelings of security. Knowledge of the environment is critical for making adequate preparations for children, caregivers, and incarcerated parents.
Psychologists can be instrumental in helping with such visits. At a minimum, preparation should include talking to the child about the upcoming visit in a way that the child understands given his or her age and developmental level, providing details about what the child might see and hear at each step of the visit, informing the child of institutional rules and regulations that must be adhered to, and discussing potential emotional reactions that might occur. This information should be presented in a supportive way while answering the child`s questions simply and honestly, because distorted communication about a parent`s imprisonment has been linked to feelings of insecurity in young children of imprisoned mothers (Poehlmann, 2005).
4.2 Interventions though media.
Advances in technology have made additional types of remote contact between parents who are in jail and their children feasible. For instance, Boudin (1997) described a program in which incarcerated parents recorded themselves reading bedtime stories and then sent these audio-taped stories to their children. In addition, television conferencing or video conferencing may allow parents and children to see and hear each other without traveling to the jail or prison (Hilliman, 2006).
Another program that facilitates alternative means of contact for eligible incarcerated parents in Virginia`s prisons is called “Messages From Mom and Dad”. The program involves parent education as well as the recording and sending of taped messages to children on an audiotape or DVD (Le- Croy, personal communication, December 11, 2008). These alternative forms of communication present unique features, such as allowing a child to have in-between objects during separation that can be replayed or reused at the child`s pace. A 2007 survey of state and federal prisoners in the US exposed that more than 75% of imprisoned parents had mail contact with their children (52% reported at least monthly mail contact) and more than half had phone contact (38% reported at least monthly phone calls) (Glaze & Maruschark, 2008).
Children`s attachment relationships and contact with parents are considered part of child`s micro system. The sole aim of interventions is to mould a positive child, strengthen the relationship between the child and his/her incarcerated parent(s).
Generally, the micro system level of intervention is the one that can well tackle the problems related to children of incarcerated parents. The intervention at the micro system level evidently enhances parents` self-understanding, accurate perception of their children`s needs, and ability to relate effectively to their children. The interventions at this level also measurably increases the children`s attachment security, self-esteem, social skills, and ability to regulate negative emotions and cope with personal challenges.
For children of incarcerated parents, key micro system processes that are important for the development of secure attachments and other competencies involve care giving interactions that occur within the home (Poehlmann, Park, et al., 2008) as well as ongoing contacts with incarcerated parents (Poehlmann, 2005b). The processes at this level will greatly help the child to overcome the negative effects of his/her parent`s incarceration. In theoretical model, visitation between children and incarcerated parents is seen as the most proximal form of contact, and thus it may have the greatest effects on children`s attachment relationships and well-being.
More innovative programs that may improve parent – child contact as well as provide better opportunities should be set up. Programs that facilitate alternative means of contact for eligible incarcerated parents should also be considered. These include phone calls, taped messages, television conferencing etc.
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