Methods: This study reviewed 57 peer-reviewed articles from 14 databases including data on health and behavioral child outcomes of parental incarceration and the corresponding risk and protective factors of these outcomes. The review included 94,745 children with incarcerated parents and 477,281 comparison children from over 9 countries. Gender of CIP and the parent figure of incarcerated were examined to imply the possibility of gender-specific differences.
Results: Parental incarceration was found to be significantly associated with heightened risk on children’s health and behavioral outcomes, including physical aggression and violent behaviors, mental health problems, school under-performance, substance dependence, poor physical health, and poor social relationship. In the event of parental incarceration, boys were more likely to respond with greater physical aggression while girls tend to respond with greater internalizing behaviors, leading to elevated mental health issue. Besides, children with mother incarcerated reported with higher risk of internalizing behaviors and delinquency. It was found that the socioeconomic disadvantage of CIP, family disruptions and parental substance dependence may worsen the health and behavioral outcomes of CIP. Coupled with low education attainment, CIP in adulthood were significantly more likely to have ever received public assistance and less likely to report a full-time employment and home ownership. The influence of parental incarceration has a long-term impact on children which may lead to intergenerational poverty. Nonetheless, a healthy family relationship, cooperative co-parenting and well-being of parents have been found to be efficiently protecting CIP from the adverse health and behavioral outcomes due to parental incarceration.
Conclusions and Implications: Parental incarceration adversely affected children’s health and behavioral outcomes even into adulthood. Upon this review, several protective factors for CIP have been identified which could imply future preventive and supportive practice and policy. A framework for the care and welfare of CIP and families in social work practice was suggested to focus on building a healthy and strong intra-family relationship particularly on cooperative co-parenting due to its spillover effects on children. Besides, a more cost-effective and socially beneficial alternative instead of incarceration was suggested due to the wide range of evidence-informed adverse child outcomes, thus efficiently minimize the harm to CIP and social and fiscal costs to the communities and families involved.