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Jacqueline Hewitt, Jennifer Anderson, Lena Caesar, Ed.D., Ph.D., Marie R. Kerins, Ed.D.

Language and Literacy Characteristics of Children with a Family History of Incarceration

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The number of children with a parent in a state or federal prison has continued to rise between 1991 and 2007 reaching 2.3% of the nation’s children ( Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). Given the potential harm to the millions of affected children in the United States a better understanding of the impact of incarceration on this vulnerable population needs attention. In a 2012 meta-analysis by Murray, Farrington and Sekol contrasting views of the adverse effects incarceration plays on children’s outcomes were identified. Outcomes ranged from fairly strong (Murray, 2008) to no specific risk to children separated from parents due to incarceration (Eddy & Reid, 2003).

In this study, 38 children attending the Baltimore U.S. Dreams Academy were assessed to determine their language and literacy skills. The after school program for 3rd – 8th graders has a focused mission “aimed at breaking the cycle of incarceration by giving children the skills and vision needed to lead a productive life” (U.S. Dreams). Two standardized measures were administered on site: The Gray Oral Reading Test (GORT-5) and the Clinical Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP). Children were grouped by family history of incarceration; 14 students currently had an incarcerated family member and 22 did not.

When compared on this factor no significant differences were found between groups. While the N is relatively small, this finding may support the fact that educational achievement is not impacted by family history of incarceration. Findings did show below-average performance on several measures of the GORT-5 and the CTOPP, particularly the comprehension subtest of the GORT-5. Reasons for this will be explored and next steps will also be delineated for work with the U.S. Dreams Academy.

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