Children of incarcerated parents: In the children's own words
v Table of Contents Acknowledgments iv List of Figures viii CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION 1 Background of the Study 2 Statement of the Problem 4 Purpose of the Study 5 Research Questions 5 Rationale, Relevance, and Significance of the Study 6 Definition of Terms 7 Assumptions and Limitations 9 Theoretical Framework 10 CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW 14 Theoretical Framework 15 Bridging the Gaps of Resolving the Controversies 24 Review of the Critical Literature 25 Evaluation of Viable Research Design 55 Chapter Summary 55 CHAPTER 3. METHODOLOGY 56 Researcher’s Philosophy 56 Research Questions 57 Research Design 57 Sampling Design 62
vi Question Development 64 Measures 65 Data Collection Procedures 66 Pilot Testing 68 Data Analysis Procedures 68 Strengths and Limitations of Research Design 69 Qualitative Internal Validity 71 Qualitative External Validity 71 Credibility 72 Transferability 72 Expected Findings 73 Ethical Issues 73 Chapter Summary 77 CHAPTER 4. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS 78 The Researcher 78 Researcher Epoché 79 Initial Responses 80 Participant Demographics 80 Data Collection 81 Data Analysis 82 Participant 1 83 Participant 2 89 Participant 3 95
vii Participant 4 100 Participant 5 105 Participant 6 109 Participant 7 116 Participant 8 121 Participant 9 126 Participant 10 130 Participant 11 137 Chapter Summary 142 CHAPTER 5. RESULTS, CONCLUSIONS, RECOMMENDATIONS 144 Background of the Study 145 Summary of Findings 148 Significance of Research Compared to Literature Review 151 Significance of the Study 153 Recommendations for Future Research 154 Critical Reflections 155 REFERENCES 156 APPENDIX A. DEMOGRAPHIC/PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS SURVEY 168 APPENDIX B. INTERVIEW QUESTIONS 170
viii List of Figures Figure 1. Adolescent participant ethnicity by age and gender 146 Figure 2. Parental incarceration history 147 Figure 3. Adolescent’s age at onset of parent’s current incarceration 149 Figure 4. Years adolescents are academically behind in school 149 Figure 5. Education 150 Figure 6. Adolescent arrest history 151
CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION
According to the U.S. Department of Justice (as cited in Glaze & Maruschak, 2008), America’s prisons held approximately 809,800 parents at midyear 2007. Parents held in the nation’s prisons consisted of 52% of state inmates and 63% of federal inmates (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). The Bureau of Justice reported that these incarcerated parents have an estimated 1,706,600 minor children, accounting for 2.3% of the U.S. population under age 18 (as cited in Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). Additionally, the number of children reported to be impacted by incarceration is only an estimate because of the unwillingness of some incarcerated individuals to report themselves as parents (Miller, 2006, 2007). Research has shown that several concerns arise with children whose parents are incarcerated (Mumpola, 2000). Children of incarcerated parents may experience feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and guilt. Signs of low self-esteem, depression, aggression, and emotional withdrawal from other family members are also experienced (Arditti, Lambert-Shute, & Joest, 2003; Martin, 2001; Miller, 2007; Mumpola, 2000; Simmons, 2000). In addition to the noted emotional problems, the children of prisoners are at greater risk for alcohol and drug abuse, poor academic performance, and juvenile delinquency (Hanlon et al., 2005; Martin, 2001). Other concerns for children of
2 incarcerated parents are issues of attachment, identity, and self-esteem (Arditti, 2001; Hanlon et al., 2005; Martin, 2001; Miller, 2007; Mumpola, 2000; Simmons, 2000).
Background of the Study Brief Overview of Research The number of children affected by the phenomenon of parental incarceration is growing at an alarming rate. Parents held in state and federal prisons increased significantly between 1991 and 2007, by 79% (357,300 parents), and yet little is empirically known about this population (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). Many studies have been conducted with the parents of incarcerated children but not with the children themselves (Arditti, Smock, & Parkman, 2005; Lee, 2005; Maier, 2006). Social workers are concerned about the potential effects this particular type of parent–child separation has on children whose parents are incarcerated (Luke, 2002). Existing literature reports that children whose parents are incarcerated experience a variety of negative consequences, primarily with their emotional health, contact with their parents, and their physical care (Arditti, 2001; Forooeddin, Dadkhah, & Biglarian, 2007; Martin, 2001; Miller, 2007; Mumpola, 2000; Seymour, 1998; Simmons, 2000). Studies indicate these children display and experience feelings of extreme sadness, embarrassment, depression, fear, anger, guilt, anxiety, and abandonment (Arditti et al., 2005; Martin, 2001; Mumpola, 2000; Simmons, 2000). Many of these children display problematic and aggressive behaviors at home, school, and in the community. Research suggests that children whose parents are incarcerated are more likely to be incarcerated than children whose parents were never incarcerated (Alexander, 2005; Reilly, 2003).
3 Key Components, Elements, Aspects, and Concepts of the Problem Many studies conducted used primarily small samples and inadequate comparison groups, and contained no input from the child of the incarcerated parent (Arditti et al., 2005; Thompson & Harm, 2000). The primary research that has been gathered has been gathered from the incarcerated parents or the caregivers, but very little has been gathered from the children. Social workers are faced with the daunting task of working with these children with a lack of information to truly assist children of incarcerated parents with their individual needs (Phillips & Bloom, 1998). Due to the limited research on children with incarcerated parents, there are many negative consequences that surround not only the family relationship but also society as a whole (Mackintosh, Myers, & Kennon, 2006). According to Maier (2006), institutional policies and scholarly research has often neglected the roles and needs of children whose parents are incarcerated. Society’s perception of this population is different from the real-life experience of parents who are incarcerated and the children the incarcerated parents leave behind. Maier further stated that information on the family of the incarcerated parent is not readily available, which in turn results in limited research on parents in prison. Maier concluded that family advocates should develop public policies, programs, and services to promote parental involvement, including parental support programs to assist parents in prison in maintaining essential relationships with their children. Although there are many obstacles that exist and interfere with the incarcerated parent and his or her child’s interaction, interaction with the incarcerated parent and the child is vital in maintaining parental– child attachment (Hairston, 2001a).
4 Understanding of How the Problem Arose Over the past 15 years, several legal and sociopolitical developments have resulted in the application of harsh criminal sanctions for even nonviolent inmates; this has given the United States the distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world (Beck & Jones, 2007). Between 1991 and midyear 2007, the number of parents held in state and federal prisons outpaced the growth in America’s population (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). In 2007, it was estimated that of the 74 million children in America who were under the age of 18, 2.3% had a parent in prison (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). Incarcerated parents in federal and state prisons increased by 79% during this period, while the custody population grew by 89% (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). In 2007, America’s prisons held approximately 65,500 mothers who reported having 147,400 children, and 744,000 fathers who reported having 1,559,200 children (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). Since 1991 the number of children with a mother in prison has more than doubled, up 131%, and the number of children with a father in prison has grown by 77% (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). These numbers present an alarming fact that the growing rate of incarcerated mothers held in state and federal prisons is higher than the growing rate of fathers. Black children were 7.5 times more likely to have a parent in prison than White children. Hispanic children were 2.5 times more likely than White children to have a parent in prison (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008).
Statement of the Problem There are a growing number of children with incarcerated parents, and these children face exceptional difficulties in their lives (Vacca, 2008). Children of
5 incarcerated parents are often referred to as hidden victims because traditionally they have been understudied (Miller, 2006, 2007). For this reason, this study explored family and social life experiences of adolescents whose parents have experienced incarceration, from the adolescent’s perspective.
Purpose of the Study The purpose of this phenomenological qualitative study was to identify and examine the family and social life experiences of adolescents who have an incarcerated parent. This was done using a phenomenological approach that allowed a rich exploration of the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of these children. The results may prompt further research that can eventually lead to creating and establishing parenting guidelines for social workers and case workers, who work with parents within the correctional system.
Research Questions The primary research question that guided this study was as follows: How do adolescents describe their experiences as children of incarcerated parents? Secondary research questions that guided this study were as follows: 1. How do children of incarcerated parents describe their experiences with shame, anger, guilt, and other problematic emotions to include sadness, abandonment, loneliness, and depression? 2. How do children of incarcerated parents feel about visiting and communicating with their parents in prison?
6 3. How do children of incarcerated parents feel about their families and the caregivers with whom they live, while their parents are incarcerated?
Rationale, Relevance, and Significance of the Study While most of the negative effects of incarceration on the family are visible, further exploration is needed due to the limited research generated that describes the incompatibilities between prison and the development of familial bonding relationships (Dyer, 2005). There are an estimated 1,706,600 minor children whose parents are incarcerated, and they account for 2.3% of the U.S. population under 18 years of age. Research was needed because the damage to familial ties created by incarceration, especially to children, is particularly problematic (Dyer, 2005). The research is extremely limited when it comes to listening to voices of the children who are impacted by the incarceration of their parents. There is an abundance of research on the impact of imprisonment on inmates but very little on the children they leave behind while they are incarcerated (Pleck, 2007). This study provided an opportunity to obtain valuable information about adolescents of incarcerated parents in their own words. Although the number of children whose parents are incarcerated is constantly increasing, and these children are affected in multiple ways, very little is known about the lives of these children or the impact of their parents’ incarceration on their future (Lee, 2005). Scholars and researchers have identified children of incarcerated parents as the least served and least studied subgroup of at-risk youth (La Vigne, Davies, & Brazzell, 2008; Lee, 2005). This study provided an opportunity to obtain information on adolescents who have an incarcerated parent who are between the ages of 16 and 19.
7 Adalist-Estrin has written several articles that detail the need for further research and the necessity of providing assistance to maintain the relationships that are needed between incarcerated parents and their children. In several of her articles, she discusses the relevance for further research and the need to give these children and their parents a voice (Adalist-Estrin, 1994; Adalist-Estrin & Mustin, 2003). Research shows that although there are new efforts to assist incarcerated parents in improving their relationships with their children, more theoretical research is needed (Arditti et al., 2005; Block & Potthast, 1998; Bronte-Tinkew, Burkhauser, Mbwana, Metz, & Collins, 2008). This study provides documentation that incarceration does cause social harm to the parent–child relationship. The study explored the unique relationships of how children experience their parents’ incarceration and how their experiences shape the development of attachment, identity, and self-esteem. The results of this study contribute insights about the experiences of this population to the small body of research that exists about incarcerated parents and the realities that exist for their children. The results of this study enhance the available knowledge by showing the role of parental incarceration in the life experiences and development of the children.
Definition of Terms In order to understand some of the terms used in the study, it is important to define them. The operational definitions are as follows. Adolescence. Adolescence refers to the second decade of life and sometimes beyond. The onset of adolescence varies from child to child and depends on one’s level
8 of physical and emotional maturity, the influences of one’s peer group, and the pressures of the environment. This period of development corresponds roughly to the period between the ages of 10 and 19. Some adolescents take a few years longer to develop their adult identity and behavior, sometimes into their early to mid-20s (Bowlby, 1982; Erikson, 1959). Adolescent. An individual in the stage of adolescence; one who has reached puberty but not yet an adult; the individual may be between 10 and 19 years old (Bowlby, 1982). Attachment. The bonds one person has to another person (Bowlby, 1982). Caregivers. Adults who are responsible for caring for children whose parents are incarcerated (Mackintosh et al., 2006). Childhood attachment. Ways, such as insecure/avoidant, insecure/resistant and disorganized/disoriented, in which a child relates to others, in particularly his or her primary caregiver (Ainsworth, Bell, & Stayton, 1974; Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978). Criminal behavior. Behavior that is equated with criminality and delinquency, which both involve engaging in criminal acts. This criminality can lead to arrest, conviction, or incarceration for adults, while delinquency is related to juveniles committing unlawful acts (Rhee & Waldman, 2002). Criminal conditions. Environments and experiences to which people are exposed that increase the likelihood that one will engage in criminal behavior (Greene, Haney, & Hurtado, 2000).
9 Incarcerated parent. For this study, an individual who is a parent of a child (between the ages of 16 and 19) and is in jail or prison for an illegal activity or behavior (Miller, 2007). Parental attachment. A stable connection that provides a feeling of safety and security for the child (Bowlby, 1982). Parental attachment provides a secure base for children to explore and engage in developmental behaviors (Perrone, Webb, & Jackson, 2007). Relationship closeness. The degree of interdependence between two individuals based on the frequent impact they have on each other, the strength of the impact per each occurrence, the impact of the diversity of the activities in which they jointly participate, and to which these properties characterize the interconnected activity series for a relatively long duration of time (Kelley, 1983).
Assumptions and Limitations Assumptions This researcher expected there would be an adequate number of participants who fit the defined criteria for participation in the study. Florida was considered an appropriate state for the study primarily because it is home to the third largest prison in the United States. As of June 30, 2009, there was a total of 100,894 inmates in the Florida prison system. In Florida, the number of inmates increased by 18.8% over the last 4 years, from 84,901 in June 2005 to 100,894 in June 2009. These numbers show an increase of 2.8% in Florida’s prison population over the previous fiscal year. On June 30, 2008, the majority of inmates were male (93,857, or 93.0%) and Black (50,106, or
10 49.8%). The highest five categories of primary offenses for which inmates are incarcerated in Florida are drugs (19.8%), burglary (14.7%), murder/manslaughter (12.6%), robbery (12.4%), and violent personal offenses (12.1%). In Florida as of June 30, 2009, 536 of every 100,000 Floridians were incarcerated, compared to 471 in 2005 (Florida Department of Corrections [FLDOC], 2009). Limitations The primary limitations of the study were the number of participants, the age of the participants, and the location of the participants. The study did not involve the perspectives of the incarcerated parents, the perspectives of the caregivers of the children, or the perspectives of children younger than 16 years of age. The factors of age, geographical location, and the focus on adolescents between the ages of 16 and 19 may have limited the general experiences of similar populations in other geographical areas or from younger age groups.
Theoretical Framework The theoretical design guiding this research was an integrated theoretical approach, using a combination of Bowlby’s attachment theory, Stryker’s identity theory, and Erikson’s developmental theory. Bowlby’s attachment theory provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for the discussion of affectionate relationships between individuals. Bowlby’s attachment theory stresses the attitudes and behaviors of young children toward their adult caregivers (Demirbas & Yagbasan, 2006). Bowlby (1982) argued that human infants naturally seek and strive to maintain closeness to a few figures to feel safe and protected. Bowlby
11 (1969) suggested the existence of an attachment behavioral system is activated when children feel unsafe, by caregivers’ absenteeism or the approaching of a stranger. Bowlby (1982) reported that when the attachment system is activated, a child will gain the caregiver’s attention, move closer, or other method, until he or she is soothed and made to feel safe again. Erikson’s (1963) developmental theory states that human’s progress through eight stages of psychosocial growth throughout their lives. These stages reflect growth in development and serve as the primary foundation for an individual’s psychosocial development. The stages are considered interdependent, and the successful resolution of each stage is dependent on the successful resolution of the prior stages (Erikson, 1963). Erikson’s developmental theory has eight stages; however, this study is particularly relevant to Stages 5–7: identity (vs. role confusion), intimacy (vs. isolation), and generativity (vs. stagnation). Although identity development is considered to be the priority for adolescents, Erikson maintained that identity development, as well as all stages of psychosocial development, continues throughout one’s lifetime. Following Erikson’s view that intimacy allows an individual to connect one’s identity with that of others, Cook and Jones (2007) proposed this fusion may be facilitated by identities such as values, ethics, and interests. This fusion of identity issues into the concepts from Erikson’s developmental theory is the primary reason as for including identity theory as the third theoretical framework in the study. Identity theory originated in the discipline of sociology and deals with the structure and function of people’s identity as related to the behavioral roles they play in society. Identity theory was originally formulated by Stryker (Stryker, 1968, 1987;
12 Stryker & Serpe, 1982). Identity theory explains social behavior in terms of the ongoing relations between self and society. It is strongly associated with the symbolic interactionist view that one’s society affects social behavior through its influence on self (Blumer, 1969). Identity theory is a perspective on the relationship between the roles people play in society and the identities such roles require. The focus is on individual behavior as it is mediated by role identities (Cook & Jones, 2007). Identity theory has particular strengths in its analysis of the impact of chronic identities on primarily individual outcomes and in its emphasis on interpersonal social interactive contexts (Dumas, Lawford, Tieu, & Pratt, 2009). The major components of Bowlby’s attachment theory, Stryker’s identity theory, and Erikson’s developmental theory are all significant to the study. Identity, attachment, and development are explained in relationship to the parent and child dynamics occurring when that parent is incarcerated. It is believed that all of these theories may influence the parent and child relationship, their levels of attachment, security, as well as relationship security when applied to children whose parents are or have been incarcerated. This research study employed a qualitative methodology to explore pertinent factors of children who have an incarcerated parent. Qualitative research is based on perspectives to examine and identify how experiences are given meaning by the individual (Creswell, 2003). Qualitative research exhibits several common characteristics that encompass its totality. Rossman and Rallis (2003) attested that qualitative researchers (a) try to understand people through multiple methods; (b) value the messiness of the lived world; the researcher makes a sustained focus of context integral to his or her work and assumes that a detailed understanding of human experience is gained
13 by exploring these complexities; and (c) systematically reflects on the ongoing flow of everyday life. This phenomenological qualitative study was created to understand the lived experiences of children whose parents are incarcerated. Sokolowski (2000) referred to phenomenological research as the process in which the researcher identifies the essence of human experiences concerning a phenomenon as described by participants in a study. In phenomenological research, the researcher tries to understand the lived experiences of the participants in a systematic way that facilitates a smooth transition for the comparison of the researcher’s personal experiences to those uncovered in the data analysis process. The study describes the phenomenon in rich detail, illuminating the lived experience of the participants, and investigates the foundations of the phenomenon (Kostere & Percy, 2006). The study gathers the conscious experience as experienced from the first-person point of view, with the relevant conditions of the experience.
CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW
The purpose of this research study was to explore the relationship between children and their incarcerated parents. The study examined the level of attachment, identity issues, and developmental issues that are present for children whose parents are incarcerated and how it has affected their lives thus far. A literature review was conducted to examine existing research about how children experience their parents’ incarceration. Primarily the research that has been conducted relies on the one-time reporting of the incarcerated parents or caregivers (Arditti et al., 2005; Thompson & Harm, 2000). The data obtained from this study contribute to the limited information that is known about the effects of parental incarceration on their children, from the voice of the children themselves. Several studies (Acock, Arditti, Bahr, & Day, 2005; Clarke et al., 2005; Johnson & Waldfogel, 2002; Lengyel & Harris, 2003) support the lack of research from the voice of the children, the actual number of children affected, and the full extent of the problem concerning the long-term effects on children whose parents are incarcerated. The lack of research is limited at both the state and national levels and is not gathered consistently (La Vigne et al., 2008). This chapter discusses the integrated theoretical approach that was utilized in the study. Additionally, this chapter contains a review of existing literature and relevant research studies about parents who are incarcerated and the effect it has on their children
15 who are left behind. The integrated theoretical frameworks that were utilized to support the study are Bowlby’s attachment theory, Stryker’s identity theory, and Erikson’s developmental theory, so these theories are also discussed in this section. The literature review further explores and documents the connection between attachment and identity theories on the development of children whose parents are incarcerated. The themes are introduced and discussed as they are in the literature and are all connected with the impact of incarceration on the children who are left behind due to their parents’ incarceration. The themes presented in the past and current literature are attachment, communication/visitation, parenting, behavior impact, and economic impact.
Theoretical Framework Attachment Theory Attachment theory is a primary theory related to child development. Bowlby was the largest contributor to attachment theory. Bowlby’s (1980) formulation of attachment theory describes the bonds of affection that develop between children and their parents, including the quality of the relationship. Attachment theory provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for discussion of affectionate relationships between human beings (Demirbas & Yagbasan, 2006). Bowlby argued that attachment is related to the attitudes and behaviors young children develop toward their parents. Bowlby stated the bonds of attachment reflect the universal need for comfort and the need for a sense of security. Comfort and a sense of security both play major roles in promoting a child’s social and emotional development (Bowlby, 1982). Vast literature now attests to
16 Bowlby’s claims about the importance of secure attachment and its origin to responsive parenting (Arditti et al., 2005; Brown, Rodgers, & Kapadia, 2008). One of the most significant concerns for children whose parents are incarcerated is attachment (La Vigne et al., 2008; Simmons, 2000). Attachment is the relationship one forms between oneself and another person, in most instances the parent or caregiver (Bowlby, 1982). This relationship usually draws them closer over time. The basic tenet of attachment theory is that the reciprocal relationship between the child/infant and the caregiver has a biological basis (Bowlby, 1980). The main function of this attachment relationship is to increase chances of survival for the infant by helping the infant to seek proximity to someone who will provide essential care. The attachment relationship also takes into account the emotional aspects of infant–parent relationships. Bowlby (1980) explained the establishment of security for the infant and development by the infant/child of internal working models is crucial, and that unwanted separation from the person to whom the infant is attached gives rise to emotional distress. The majority of incarcerated parents have extremely complex family networks. Almost half of incarcerated parents with children have several children by different mates. The majority of incarcerated parents do not share a marital bond or maintain a positive relationship with the other parent of the children (K. Gabel & Johnston, 1995; Roy & Dyson, 2005; Travis, McBride, & Solomon, 2005). Most children with parents who are incarcerated will never have the opportunity to have an intact family. In addition, due to the fact that their parents are incarcerated, these children are extremely vulnerable to the same kinds of influences, including a range of negative influences (Krisberg & Temin, 2001; Lee, 2005; Virginia Commission on Youth, 2002).
17 Lack of parental guidance usually leads children of incarcerated parents to a life of criminal activity, the same course their parents traveled (Armstrong, Birnie- Lefcovitch, Ungar, & Friesen, 2005; S. Gabel, 1992). This creates many challenges for social workers and child welfare professionals. These children are at higher risk for issues such as academic failure, substance abuse, early pregnancy, and juvenile delinquency— all issues of concern (Berg, 2004; Freudberg, 2004). In order to meet the challenge of incarcerated parents and the children they leave behind, the field of social work must consider creating a comprehensive strategy that includes developing and promoting a research agenda, identifying and addressing the therapeutic needs of children with incarcerated parents, and promoting the accessibility of family preservation and support services (Seymour, 1998). Current concepts of attachment theory accept that the infant may form chosen attachments to a number of persons. In addition, a hierarchical aspect among the relationships is accepted (Bowlby, 1980). It is also accepted that attachment behaviors will be exhibited according to the degree to which the attachment system is activated. Thus, the literature suggests, attachment security in a parent–infant relationship is related to the parent’s accessibility and the appropriate responsiveness to the infant (Ainsworth et al., 1974; Bowlby, 2005; Hazan & Shaver, 1994). Once this relationship is established, the security of the parent/caregiver relationship is extremely stable over time. In addition, research suggests that attachment security predicts other aspects of a child’s development, such as social competence and problem solving (Sroufe, Carlson, & Shulman, 1993).