- Deseret News - Friday, October 30, 2015

When it comes to data on how many U.S. children have at least one parent behind bars, previous estimates don’t paint a picture of the grim reality, according to a national research organization.

So what stats accurately sum up this nationwide issue?

Child Trends, a research center that gives insights on the well-being of youths, indicated in a recent report one in 14 children face the byproducts of an incarcerated parent. That’s more than 5 million U.S. kids, or almost 7 percent, according to Reuters.

Circumstances are worse for poor and minority children.

“The 20-page report indicates that when it comes to black children, the number who have had an incarcerated parent rises to one in nine, and poor children are three times more likely to have had an incarcerated parent than children from higher income households,” Melanie Eversley wrote for USA Today. “Rural children are more likely than urban children to have had an incarcerated parent, the report says.”

USA Today noted prior estimates pale in comparison to those in Child Trends’ report. Deborah Jiang-Stein, founder of the unPrison Project, told USA Today that 10 years ago, 60,000 children had an incarcerated parent.

A 2007 estimate put the number of children in the same circumstance at 1.7 million — or 2 percent, Reuters’ report stated.

Jiang-Stein cited an increase in the rate of incarcerated mothers for the spike, according to USA Today.

Nash Jenkins wrote for Time the study hoped to examine “both the prevalence of parental incarceration and child outcomes associated with it.”

Those outcomes make up a long list, Jared Keller wrote for Pacific Standard. Child Trends’ report mentions physical and psychological problems plaguing children for their entire lives when a parent spends time in prison.

The development of these children in important life stages is at stake.

“The causes of this trauma are varied, but in all cases the incarceration means a child is far more likely to experience additional adversity in the crucial years of their development,” Pacific Standard indicated. “More than half of children who have seen a parent go to prison have also lived with someone with a substance abuse problem (compared to less than 10 percent of those without a parent in prison). Nearly 60 percent also saw their parents divorce … Finally, more than a third witnessed domestic violence.”

When mothers are imprisoned, in particular, their absence makes their children “demonstrate depression, anxiety and rule-breaking behavior,” a Child Trends report on the study read. Kids in this category grapple with larger odds of dropping out of school, being suspended and doing poorly in school than their peers without a parent in prison.

In addition, Child Trends noted visiting inmate mothers proves more difficult for a few reasons. Children’s new caretakers might not be able to take them to see their moms.

And distance is a larger factor than with dads in prison.

“Because women’s prisons are more scarce than men’s, incarcerated women tend to be farther away from their families; these distances can make it difficult for the current caretaker to arrange visits,” according to Child Trends.

According to USA Today, Child Trends listed methods to keep kids of prison-occupying parents from facing such dire odds. Reducing the stigma of having a parent who is incarcerated, improving communication between incarcerated parents and their children, and making prison visits less stressful could all combat the issue.

Child Trends’ piece detailed another step to solving the problem: prison nurseries.

“Prison nurseries have even been developed for mothers who have their children while in prison, where they can raise their children for a limited period of time,” Child Trends reported. “Prison nurseries may reduce the chance that the mother returns to prison.”

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