First Advisor

Eileen Brennen

Term of Graduation

Spring 2008

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work and Social Research




Behavior disorders in adolescence, Children of prisoners -- Effect of imprisonment on Emotions in adolescence, Prisoners' families -- Effect of imprisonment on, Teenagers -- Mental health, Academic theses



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, 132 pages)


Over the past two decades, the number of imprisoned adults in the United States has quadrupled. Mirroring this trend is the rapidly increasing population of children with incarcerated parents. The initial findings of research on the effects of parental incarceration on children are disturbing, indicating a vulnerable group of children at risk for poor outcomes. Yet, research on these children remains limited. Several studies have focused on the description of these children, yet few have analyzed the relationship between parental incarceration and child outcomes in conjunction with other risk and protective factors. Understanding these relationships is crucial to the development of effective programs and policies for these children.

Based on elements of risk and resilience theories, this study investigates the relationships between key risk and protective factors for children of incarcerated parents through the analysis of a longitudinal data set gathered as part of the Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT) investigation started in 1990 (Eddy, Reid, Stoolmiller, & Fetrow, 2003). Through the LIFT investigation, 671 youth and their families were followed over 14 years.

The main aims of the current study were to (a) explore differences in social advantage, parent health, and parenting of families with and without an incarcerated parent, and (b) test models that postulate that the relationship between parental incarceration and youth's externalizing behaviors and delinquency is mediated by social advantage, parents' health, and parenting skills.

The study revealed that parental incarceration is associated with higher levels of externalizing behaviors and delinquency in children. These associations were mediated by family's social advantage, the parents' health, and parenting strategies. For externalizing behaviors, the mediation model explained approximately 60% of the variance in youth externalizing behaviors in the 5th and 8th grades, and 20% of the variance in 10th grade. The study found that while a similar model operated in youth delinquency, it explained only 8% of the variance. The findings highlight the important predictive and potentially protective relationship that family's social advantage, parent health, and effective parenting skills have with youth externalizing behaviors and serious delinquency for children with incarcerated parents.


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