Whilst neither of my parents were ever imprisoned, when I was about ten or eleven years old, after my parents had got divorced, my mother’s mentally ill, alcoholic, live – in – lover was frequently in and out of jail (primarily Brixton and Pentonville in London, if memory serves).
Despite his criminal inclinations, he always treated me well – except, that is, for driving me about in his (stolen) cars whilst very drunk indeed ( him, not me). Why my mother allowed this to happen is unclear as she surely must have known, or, at the very least, have suspected, what was going on, would she not?
Because of the emotional bond I developed with this less than entirely responsible man (he seemed to like me a lot more than my parents or brother did), I found the unpredictability of his presence somewhat distressing. Sometimes, too, a police car would station itself outside our house, waiting for his return so they could arrest him, I presume; I never asked – but the presence of these police vehicles was,to a child, unsettling, disconcerting and vaguely menacing.
Because of such experiences, I was intrigued to find out what the current research had to say about the possible effects upon child of having an incarcerated parent or primary caregiver.
Whilst more research needs to be undertaken in connection with the question of the effects of parental imprisonment on the child (because, for example, some of the studies so far undertaken have been on a relatively low scale), evidence so far collected suggests the following effects may be experienced by children as a result of having a parent jailed:
Possible Effects On The Child Of Having A Parent Jailed:
– disruption in the development of the child-parent relationship
– poverty (due to loss of the parental income)
– social stigmatization
– reduced care
– reduced supervision
– development of mental health / behavioural problems, including anxiety, depression, regressive behaviour, aggression, running away, withdrawal, ‘clingy’ behaviour, eating disorders, poor school performance, sleep problems, hyperactivity and delinquency (Murray).
There also exists some evidence that girls may be more adversely affected by parental incarceration than boys and that having a mother jailed is more damaging than having a father jailed.
Finally, it should be pointed out, that, if the jailed parent was abusive, his/her imprisonment could actually benefit the child.
However, as I stated at the beginning of this article, more research in this area needs to be conducted.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).