Adverse Childhood Experiences among Children of Incarcerated Parents

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There is good reason to expect that children of incarcerated parents are disproportionately exposed to other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), defined as potentially stressful or traumatic events such as abuse or neglect, yet little research systematically considers this possibility. In this article, I used newly released data from the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH), a recent and nationally representative sample of noninstitutionalized children ages 0 to 17, to examine the relationship between parental incarceration and exposure to six additional ACEs: parental divorce or separation, parental death, household member abuse, violence exposure, household member mental illness, and household member substance problems. Results suggest three main conclusions. First, ACEs are relatively common, with nearly one-third (32.5%) of children having exposure to at least one ACE (including parental incarceration). Second, children of incarcerated parents are exposed to nearly five times as many other ACEs as their counterparts without incarcerated parents (2.06 compared to 0.41, on average), and these statistically significant differences persist after adjusting for demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. Third, there is some evidence that the association between parental incarceration and ACEs is stronger among younger children (ages 0 to 6) than among older children. Taken together, these findings highlight the vulnerabilities experienced by children of incarcerated parents.

Turney, Kristin. “Adverse Childhood Experiences among Children of Incarcerated Parents.” Children & Youth Services Review 89:218–225.