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Why a parent going to prison can be worse than divorce for kids

SHARE Why a parent going to prison can be worse than divorce for kids

Kids who have a parent in jail or prison suffer significant health and behavior problems, according to a study that says parental incarceration could be worse for kids' health than divorce or a parent's death.

The study from University of California Irvine was presented at the American Sociological Association annual meeting and is published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

"We know that poor people and racial minorities are incarcerated at higher rates than the rest of the population and incarceration further hinders the health and development of children who are already experiencing significant challenges," study author Kristin Turney, assistant professor of sociology, said in a written statement.

The study found a link between having a parent in jail and higher rates of asthma, obesity, attention deficit/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and anxiety. It was also related to learning disabilities, developmental delays, and speech or language problems.

Incarceration of a parent is more strongly associated with ADD/ADHD than either death of a parent or divorce, and also more strongly linked with behavior problems than divorce is.

Turney noted that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with about 2.6 million people now behind bars.

Reaction to the research was somewhat mixed. Wrote Hoai-Tran Bui for USA Today: "Glen Elliott, a medical director and chief psychiatrist at the Children's Health Council, disagreed with the conclusions, stating that behavioral conditions and diseases such as ADHD are generally inherited rather than being caused by environmental factors."

"You can't assume that these are causal relationships," Elliott said. "There may be more mediating factors."

"I think that it raises a number of important issues when we think about how children are faring and what the collateral consequences are of mass incarceration," Susan Brown, sociology professor at Bowling Green State University, told Bui.

For the study, Turney used data from the 2011-210 National Survey of Children's Health, a nationally representative sample of children through age 17.

"We've known for decades that having an incarcerated parent places children at a greater risk for a host of poor outcomes compared with children whose parents aren't incarcerated," wrote Christopher A. Brown of the National Fatherhood Initiative. NFI, he added, "has equipped hundreds of correctional facilities, halfway houses, and re-entry programs and organizations with programs and other resources to help connect incarcerated fathers to their children and families prior to and after release."

He said 25 states use the program the organization has developed, called InsideOut Dad®.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco