Paternal Incarceration: Resilience in Father-Child Relationships

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Despite a growing consensus that paternal incarceration is a family stressor that impairs children’s well-being, there is little systematic evidence about how paternal incarceration alters relationship quality between fathers and their children. We examine the consequences of paternal incarceration for father-child relationship quality with a mixed-methods approach. First, we use data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study to document an association between paternal incarceration and father-child relationships (measured by communication with father, time with father, and engagement with father). We also find that these associations are concentrated among children living with fathers prior to his incarceration and among children of fathers experiencing a first-time incarceration. Second, we use in-depth interview data from the Jail & Family Life Study to document how paternal incarceration alters father-child relationships, finding that father-child relationship quality falls into one of the three groups: those with fractured relationships (comprising 45% of the sample), those with unchanged relationships (16%), and those with reestablished relationships (39%). These findings, particularly those showing how children’s contact with fathers during incarceration can foster resilience in these dyadic relationships, have implications for policies and practices.

Turney, Kristin, and Estéfani Marín. 2022. “Paternal Incarceration: Resilience in Father-Child Relationships.” Pp. 109–130 in Causes and Consequences of Parent-Child Separations: Pathways to Resilience, edited by J. E. Glick, V. King, and S. McHale. Springer.