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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Institute for Public Health and Medicine
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New Award: Longitudinal Study on Collateral Consequences of Parents’ Incarcerations for Their Adolescent Children

Funding Agency: National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), National Institutes of Health

Award Date:  June 10, 2019

Amount: $3,341,989 (total costs) over 5 years

Principal Investigator: Linda A. Teplin

More than 2.2 million people—disproportionately racial/ethnic minorities—are incarcerated in the U.S.  More than half of males and nearly 2/3 of females in prison have children.  Racial/ethnic disparities prevail: 1 in 9 African American children and 1 in 28 Hispanic children have a parent in prison compared with 1 in 56 non-Hispanic white children. 

Incarceration, whether or not it occurs during the child’s lifetime, may disrupt families, alienate loved ones, and limit opportunities for employment, public housing, college admission, public aid, and some occupations, leading to poverty and residential instability.  Incarceration during the child’s lifetime may have direct consequences for the child: a new caregiver, moving homes, changing schools, or placement in foster care. 

This study will leverage data already collected in the Northwestern Juvenile Project (NJP) to conduct the first comprehensive prospective study of the collateral consequences of parents’ incarcerations on their adolescent children. Begun in the mid-1990s, the NJP is a large-scale longitudinal study of mental health needs and outcomes of youth after detention.  Many of our participants (G1), now median age 36, have children of their own, with whom we have maintained contact since 2002.  We will study 466 families with children (G2) ages 10 to 17 years, a critical developmental period for problem behaviors. 

The study will

  1. use prospective longitudinal data from the NJP (up to 14 clinical interviews with parents and official records);
  2. conduct new interviews with parents (n = 466) and an additional caregiver (n = 284) to ascertain collateral consequences of incarcerations and child outcomes;
  3. interview the 466 children to ascertain their psychosocial functioning and experiences;
  4. conduct qualitative interviews (n = 48 children) to assess their experiences of their parents’ incarceration.

The study has 3 aims

  1. To examine the relationship between parents’ incarceration and their child’s psychosocial outcomes in 4 areas: mental health, substance abuse, antisocial (delinquent) behaviors, and education;
  2. To identify how the collateral consequences of incarceration mediate the associations found in Aim 1;
  3. To predict resilience, identifying variables that mitigate consequences of parents’ incarceration on child outcomes; we will focus especially on malleable aspects of social environments.
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