The Problems of Children Whose Parents Are Imprisoned


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Approximately, five million children living in the United States has had a parent locked up in prison. Out of all the countries the United States has the highest rate of imprisonment than any other country (D.Murphey & P. Cooper, 2015). The expense to house a person in prison is astronomically, in the United States. The majority of people affected are poor and of African descent. The main population that are being locked up are of African descent males accounting for 99% of total inmates (Murphey & Cooper, 2015). The second-largest number of the incarcerated population is of African descent females, this population has increased astronomically. Research has revealed that the number of females incarcerated increased by more than 750% from 26, 378 in 1980 to 225, 060 in 2017. Most of the females being locked up have children.

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The ratio of children who parents are of African descent, outnumber that of whites, statistically the number is substantially underestimated. Between 1994 and 1999 the number of African descent children who have dealt with the loss of a parent to imprisonment has increased from 11.5 to 13.6 percent, meaning about one in seven. Research has indicated that a majority of the population imprisoned have very little education, live below the poverty line and are in geographical locations of higher rates of unemployment.

Children Experiencing ACEs

Most of the parents who are imprisoned are the only providers and in some cases, the only source of income. Any time a parent is uprooted from the home, that already has little stability, it leaves children devastated. The detachment from the parent and the trauma that the child experience can affect a child’s entire wellbeing. Which could possibly resort in that child experiencing Adverse Childhood Experience’s (ACEs). With children experiencing ACE’s, domestic violence, living with a parent who is suicidal, mental issues, divorce or separation, death of a parent or drug addiction abuse issues. Research suggested that children under the age of six years old are at risk of developing 1.2 more ACE’s as well as being diagnosed with being developmentally delayed. Kids ages six to 11 years old, are likely in experiencing 1.4 more ACE’s than kids who parents aren’t incarcerated. Kids between the ages of 12 and 17 the chances are very high in experiencing 1.7 more of the ACE’s symptoms (Murphy & Cooper, 2015).

The Adoption and Safe Families Act

The overlap between prison and the foster care system affects everyone. African descent women account for approximately a third of the women in prison with their kids left in the care of foster care system (Roberts, 2012). Most of the African women who are incarcerated do not have immediate family to assist in looking after their children thus the high number of African descent children in the foster care system. With the huge incarceration of black women soaring, the child welfare cases have decreased but the foster care system is steadily growing.

The Adoption and Safe families act of 1997 (ASFA) was designed to primary break up the family unit of parents who are imprisoned. The plan for ASFA is to have those children that have been in foster care adopted out (Roberts, 2012). ASFA establishes deadlines for terminating the rights of birth parents with children in foster care and offer financial incentives to some states to move more foster kids into adoptive homes. If the child is left in foster care 15 out 22 months, then the parent could lose their parental right to the child permanently (Schumpe, 2019). When a minor is adjudicated as a dependent of the court, a hearing is scheduled to terminate the parental rights. The imprisoned parent has to be notified, however many times the social worker for the child is unaware of the location of the parent. If the prisoner has an attorney, then he/she has to contact the court system informing them they the prisoner wants to be present at the hearing. The court system is responsible for sending a temporary order for the prisoner to be present at the hearing (Simmons & Danker-Feldman, 2010). If the prisoner doesn’t have an attorney then most of the time the hearings take place and parents’ rights are terminated without the parent being present.


The massive imprisonment of women and the parting of their kids does not mean the dismantling of the family unit, by terminating a parent’s rights. The plan should be to try and unite the kids with their parents after being locked up and create a stable home for the children. One out of eight children of incarcerated parents have been stripped of their parental rights without considering the offense (Schumpe, 2019). What’s happen in some states is some judges have relieved child welfare reunification services to women who are convicted felonies (Roberts, 2012).

Some women have been incarcerated for a longer period than anticipated and after their release, they find out that their parental rights have been terminated. This separation has a huge effect not only on the women but also on their children creating long term complications and in some cases these children end up in the prison system. Other complications include mental health issues, runaway kids, prostitution, drugs and a massive number of school dropouts. The system needs to work together with imprisoned families to rehabilitate them into a community and not create a bigger problem by separating them from their children.

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