Abstract: Understanding Caregiver Criminal Justice Involvement and the Impact on Child Outcomes (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Understanding Caregiver Criminal Justice Involvement and the Impact on Child Outcomes

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Sara Beeler-Stinn, LCSW, MPA, PhD Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Melissa Jonson-Reid, MSW, PhD, Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, Saint Louis, MO
Autumn Asher BlackDeer, MSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, MO
David Patterson Silver Wolf, PhD, Associate Professor, Washington University in Saint Louis, St Louis, MO
Catherine Cobetto, BA, MSW Student, Washington University in St. Louis, Saint Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: Women are currently the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system, with most being mothers to dependent children. Over 5 million children have experienced the incarceration of a parent before the age of 18. Children of caregivers with criminal justice involvement (CJI) are at high risk of being placed in foster care and worsened development outcomes, including engaging in delinquent behavior, mental health issues, and trouble with school. The impact of CJI on adults is well studied, yet lesser known is the impact on their dependent children. The following research question guides this presentation: How is parental CJI associated with child outcomes controlling for childhood poverty and maltreatment history?

Methods: This study uses data from a Midwest metropolitan area longitudinal administrative study following children < 11 yo at baseline living in families receiving public aid (AFDC) and/or with a child abuse and neglect (CAN) report (N=12,409). Child level outcomes are measured by foster care entry (all intact families at baseline), delinquency petitions/highway patrol arrests, special education, and mental health diagnoses. Caregiver CJI was measured by whether they had a history of highway patrol arrests/corrections involvement (N=1,330) or no such history (N=11,079). Onset of CJI was recoded according to age of the child (before childbirth; birth to 5 yo; elementary school; adolescence; after child was 18 yo). CJI was also categorized by first recorded offense (any family violence; other violence; property crime; alcohol or drug charge; fraud; other). Bivariate analyses were run to understand differences by CJI and multivariate and logistic regression models were run for impact on child level outcomes. This presentation will focus on models with presence of CJI.

Results: The sample of caregivers is predominately female (99%). Compared to CAN only and AFDC only, dual involvement (AFDC+CAN) families suggests children are more likely to have a caregiver with history of CJI (p<.0001). Additionally, the children of caregivers with CJI were more likely to have entered foster care and received a mental health diagnosis (p<.0001) compared to children of caregivers with no history. The onset of CJI of the caregiver had a significant association (p<.05) with child outcomes, with over a third of children presenting delinquent behavior if the caregiver became involved before the birth of their child; this is almost two times the rate of involvement for caregivers with CJI onset after child turned 18. Regression models indicate that the children of CJI families were more likely to enter foster care whether CJI started before (OR = 1.98) or after (OR = 2.00) AFDC or CAN involvement.

Conclusions and Implications: The effects of CJI on the family, specifically the trajectories of children, are long lasting. Results suggest the children of caregivers with CJI are more likely to have worse outcomes, compared to families without yet more research is needed to understand the impact of CJI onset. Implications of child prevention programming will be reviewed, along with importance of family preservation for caregivers, especially mothers, separated from their children due to CJI.