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Thalia Bishop, Adanna Johnson-Evans, Ph.D., Heather Lyons, Ph.D., William Muth, Ph.D.

Exploration of Parenting Relationships of Incarcerated Parents and their Minor Children

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I will be conducting a qualitative research study exploring parenting relationships of children and their incarcerated parent. The goal of this study is to interview parents who participate in programs provided by Hope House in Washington, DC regarding their experiences and the impacts on their connections with their children and families. Hope House is a not-for-profit organization based in Washington DC. Since 1998, Hope House has provided programs to strengthen families and support maintaining positive relationships between children and their incarcerated parent(s). This includes programs such as, the teleconference program (which connects the parent and their child weekly through teleconferencing), the reading program (which provides the parent with the opportunity to send audio or video tape recordings of them reading books to their child), and the summer camp behind bars program (which brings the parent and their child together for a week in the summer to spend several hours together creating crafts, playing games, etc.). During the evenings, Hope House staff members and children participate in art and recreational activities at a local campground or conference center.

As the number of individuals incarcerated in the United States continues to increase, the number of children with an incarcerated parent has also continued to rise steadily (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). Over the last 25 years, there has been a significant increase in incarceration rates for parents with children under the age of 18. During the period between 1991 through the middle of 2007, the number of children with an incarcerated parent rose by 80% (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). This figure may actually be underestimated due to differences in the data recording for local jails, correctional facilities, school systems, and various departments that may have additional information on this population (Poehlmann, Dallaire, Loper, & Shear, 2010). Additionally, from 1991 to 2007, the number of incarcerated mothers and fathers increased significantly, by 131% and 77% respectively (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008).

While it can be detrimental to have a father who is incarcerated, since the mother is often the primary caregiver, there may be a stronger relationship between a mother’s incarceration and significant change in the child’s life (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). Many of these incarcerated parents will reunite with their children, especially mothers. Since parents may be reuniting with their children, working to improve parenting skills and develophealthy relationships with their children is crucial to the development of the parenting relationship (Sandifer, 2008).

In terms of children, it is important to be aware of potential negative impacts of having children visit parents in correctional facilities (Poehlmann, Shlafer, Maes, & Hanneman, 2008). However, if care is taken to train parents and create a child friendly environment, interacting with parents prior to release can have a positive relationship with the incarcerated parent and the child (Arditti & Salva, 2015). Each stakeholder in the family has a unique perspective that must be taken into account when considering how to best manage relationships within families. For this reason, it is crucial that we review the parenting relationship from the perspective of each stakeholder, including the child, the parent, and the caregiver. In considering each role, this study will review the importance of maintaining communication and review current practices, including parenting skills training.

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