For many children, growing up healthy, educated and free from violence presents many challenges. When a parent is incarcerated, those challenges may become even greater. Every day, millions of children wake up with a parent in prison or jail, and many more have a parent on probation or parole.

Partners for Our Children’s very own Dr. Mark Eddy has dedicated much of his career to understanding the developmental and emotional impact on children whose parents are in prison. These vulnerable youth – a population that has increased 80 percent in the last 20 years – are at risk for a variety of adjustment problems during childhood and adolescence, most notably antisocial behavior and delinquency. Some of these children spend time in the child welfare system and can face a variety of emotional challenges. Dr. Eddy dives into these issues in the edited volume Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners (coedited with Dr. Julie Poehlmann) – which highlights current research, pulling together findings from criminology, sociology, law, psychiatry, social work, nursing, psychology, human development and family studies.

The children of incarcerated parents are at the forefront of the Obama administration, which is working to support these children as part of an ongoing commitment to ensure that all children get the best possible start in life. On September 30, 2013, Dr. Eddy was invited to the White House to take part in a 1-day listening session “Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents.” The session brought together the previous Champions for Change honorees, national experts in mentoring, researchers, parents and youth to discuss how to improve mentoring services for these vulnerable children. The session was both enlightening and encouraging for everyone at the table. 

“The stories of youth and mentors working together were uplifting, and illustrated how profoundly important a mentor can be to a child as they face the many challenges surrounding the issue of parental incarceration,” said Dr. Eddy. 

The importance of collaboration was a common discussion point throughout the day. “Many speakers noted how important it is for mentors to strive to work closely with both the incarcerated parent and with a child’s parents or caregivers in the community. A theme that emerged across the day was that mentoring is one component of an integrated approach that involves families, schools and communities to prevent child problems and to promote child health and well-being.”

At Partners for Our Children, we are committed to improving outcomes for children who become involved in the child welfare system, including those who have parents who are involved with the criminal justice system. There is much work to be done, but these engaging conversations and the commitment of so many individuals and organizations is a step in the right direction.

If you have any questions about Dr. Eddy’s research on children of incarcerated parents or the White House listening session, please contact our Communications Manager via elnovak@uw.edu.