The Impact of Maternal Incarceration on Children: The Role of Contact During Incarceration

Ilisa N Stein, Pace University


Rates of incarceration in the United States have been increasing at unprecedented rates. The number of parents in prison continues to increase over time, and the number of mothers in prison is increasing at a faster and faster rate. As a result, a greater and greater number of children are being impacted by the consequences of having a parent who is incarcerated. The purpose of the present study was to examine the impact of the type, frequency and quality of mother-child contact during maternal incarceration on child school engagement and psychological adjustment, while taking into account the mothers' social support and attachment relationship to her child. The study used a number of self-report measures that were administered to a sample of previously incarcerated mothers (n = 46). Results indicate that more frequent and positive mother-caregiver and mother-child phone contact and mother-child visits correlated with better child psychological adjustment. Social support was an important variable. Higher ratings of mothers' perceived social support correlated with speaking more frequently to her child's caregiver, higher ratings of communication and teamwork with her child's caregiver, and fewer reported barriers to in-person visits. Additionally, higher levels of mothers' perceived social support correlated with higher levels of child school engagement. Lastly, higher levels of mothers' attachment and trust scores correlated with and significantly predicted higher levels of child school engagement and lower psychological symptoms, and therefore, better child psychological adjustment. The study provides evidence for the importance of policy recommendations to improve child outcome during maternal incarceration. Recommendations include providing the opportunity for mothers to maintain contact with their child(ren) and their child(ren)'s caregiver; provide counseling services to children and caregivers to help them manage the separation; and provide resources to help ensure stable caregiving arrangements for children with mothers who are incarcerated.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology

Recommended Citation

Stein, Ilisa N, "The Impact of Maternal Incarceration on Children: The Role of Contact During Incarceration" (2014). ETD Collection for Pace University. AAI3581748.



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