Doing Their Own Time: Children of Incarcerated Mothers

Kim Spanjol, CUNY Graduate Center

The number of children affected by maternal incarceration has more than doubled in less than ten years. In 1991, BJS estimated that there were 26,800 mothers in state and federal prisons, with more than 63,700 dependent children. By 1999, that estimation increased to 53,600 in state and federal prisons, with over 126,000 dependent children. Most information regarding service needs and effects of maternal incarceration is known anecdotally or is yielded from surveys and interviews with their parents or caregivers. Only a handful of researchers have directly studies the children themselves. In addition, the studies that have done so have obtained most of their data on younger children, rather than adolescents. The present study directly interviews adolescents who are voluntarily participating in a support group for children of incarcerated mothers and has three specific objectives. First, to assess coping skills and social supports by the adolescents whose mothers are incarcerated and who are participating in a support group, compared with coping skills and social supports used by a population who are not participating in a support group. Second, to determine if and how participation in a support group increases the amount of in-person, mail and telephone contact between children and their mothers; and third, to examine if feelings of stigma surrounding maternal incarceration exist for these children.

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Updated 05/20/2006