Associate Professor of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University
- Fathers’ incarceration is negatively associated with a range of indicators of children’s health and well-being. Children with incarcerated fathers start school less prepared behaviorally, struggle after starting school; the association may be causal.
- Because parents’ incarceration is distributed unevenly across the population of American children, it has almost certainly exacerbated disparities in children’s health.
- Since American children are much more likely to experience parental incarceration than are children from other countries, there may be even broader effects on inequality.
- Some factors moderate the association between parents’ incarceration and children’s health and well-being, including the effect of removing abusive, extremely antisocial, or dangerous fathers from the home.
In the article, “Parental Incarceration and Child Health in the United States,” Wildeman, Goldman, and Turney examined the relatively little research done from 2000 to 2017 on the consequences of parents’ incarceration for children’s health in the United States. Much research has focused on the health consequences for men of being incarcerated, but incarceration also affects the health of the women and children in the men’s lives. In their review, the authors found a consistent negative association between parents’ incarceration and children’s health and well-being. For example, parents’ incarceration is associated with elevated risks of drug use and abuse, criminality, and delinquency among adolescents, as well as greater involvement with the criminal justice system. In light of these conclusions and because the children of incarcerated parents represent a uniquely vulnerable group, the authors call for public and private funding to build better data infrastructure around this issue, and to inform public health interventions. As the number of U.S. children with incarcerated parents continues to rise, progress in this area is essential to address the breadth and severity of outcomes that hinder the well-being of an already disadvantaged population.