What Happens to the Children of Incarcerated Parents?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 20 March 2014
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Children of incarcerated parents face many challenges. One of the most serious is the absence of a parent to care for them and actively participate in their upbringing. Often, these children are sent to live with relatives, or in some cases, they end up in foster care. The bond between the incarcerated parent and the child also suffers as well, as many children with incarcerated parents only visit their parents rarely, and some do not visit at all. In many cases, this separation may lead to attachment issues as well as problems dealing with extreme emotions, including anger.

The fate of children of incarcerated parents often depends on the marital status of the incarcerated parent. If the parent who is incarcerated was married or even lived with the child’s other parent, this may at least minimize the upheaval of the child’s home life. In such a case, the child may continue living in the family home with the remaining parent. In the event that the child’s parents did not live together, the child may go to live with his other parent during the prison sentence.


Unfortunately, many children of incarcerated parents do not have another parent with whom they can live while the parent who had custody is incarcerated. In some cases, the other parent may be deceased. Sometimes, however, the remaining parent is unable or unwilling to care for the child while the other parent is in prison. In such a case, children of incarcerated parents may be sent to live with other relatives or be cared for by foster parents.

In addition to upheavals that affect living arrangements, children of incarcerated parents face the loss of a parent's daily attention and care. In fact, many children of incarcerated parents not only lose the daily presence of the incarcerated parent in their lives but also suffer damage to the bond they enjoyed with the parent. Often, children of incarcerated parents visit their imprisoned parent only rarely or not at all. Additionally, phone and written communication is often minimal.

Children of imprisoned parents may also suffer financially and emotionally. In many cases, the loss of the incarcerated parent’s income has a direct effect on the child’s lifestyle. In a two-parent household, for example, the loss of one parent's income may lead to significant financial difficulties. Often, children of incarcerated parents also struggle with emotional pain, confusion, and anger.


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