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Perils And Hopes For Children Of Jailed Mothers


Active Member
Sep 10, 2004
For a young child whose mother is imprisoned, life's prospects are predictably grim.

But a new study, the first empirical examination of the attachment relationships of young children whose mothers are in prison, suggests that simple interventions may prevent a downward social spiral for a rapidly growing and vulnerable population.

The critical finding of the study, published in the current issue (May/June 2005) of the journal Child Development, is that children placed in a stable home environment fare far better than those bounced from one home to another.

Children placed in a single, secure setting are "much better off" than those who are not in a stable caregiving situation, says study author Julie Poehlmann, a UW-Madison professor of human development and family studies and a researcher at the Waisman Center. "Almost one-third of the kids in this study are doing well in their relationships."

The study examined a sample of 54 children between two and eight years of age whose mothers were incarcerated in minimum and medium security state prisons in Wisconsin. Many of the women were drug offenders and, by and large, fit a national profile of female offenders. The families of the women and children, according to Poehlmann, also fit a national profile, with many of the children cared for by grandparents.

"This population is increasing exponentially," Poehlmann notes, "but the study shows that there are things that we can do, that these children are not doomed to negative outcomes. They are not hopeless."

Poehlmann says efforts to promote stability in caregiving situations for young children and the families of incarcerated mothers, especially in the initial period following mothers' imprisonment, may go far in improving their life prospects and avoiding family dissolution and distress.