ERG SES C 13, Childhood and Education
Children of incarcerated parents have been referred to as ‘collateral convicts’ (Robertson, 2012), the ‘orphans of justice’ (Shaw, 1992) and the ‘forgotten victims’ of crime (Matthews, 1983). These children are often punished indirectly for the sins of their fathers (or mothers), yet few seem aware of, or concerned with, their plight.
The removal of a parent from a home, for any reason, can be an upsetting experience for a child. However, in addition to the upheaval caused by parental absence, the indirect effects of parental incarceration can be particularly disturbing for a child. For example, parental incarceration often results in disruption to a child's living situation, a change in primary caregiver, financial difficulties and vague (if, indeed, any) explanations given to the child (Issues discussed variously in Geller, Garfinkel, Cooper, & Mincy, 2009, p.1196; Murray, 2005, p.451; Murray, Farrington, & Sekol, 2012, p.178; Breen, 2010, p.50). Reactions of others can play a huge role in determining the level of disruption experienced by these children who, according to much of the research, are often bullied and stigmatised (see, for example, Condry, 2007, p.141&174; Martyn, 2012, p.20; Breen, 1995, p.98). Children’s own reactions to the situation can go on to influence their future life paths. Essentially, a parent’s prison sentence can act as a critical transition period for a child in many ways - emotionally, behaviourally, developmentally and academically.
The research discussed in this paper seeks to describe, analyse and understand the experiences of children in Ireland who have a father in prison, exploring how these experiences affect their academic lives. By academic lives, I mean children’s approaches to school work, their relationships with teachers and peers, their attitudes to school and learning and their academic performance. The research questions that emerged from the existing literature were ‘What are the experiences of primary school children (aged six to 12 years) whose fathers are incarcerated in the Republic of Ireland?’ and ‘What influences or impacts do these experiences have on children’s academic lives?’
Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory was chosen to provide a framework for the research as it acknowledges the influence of multiple contexts on children’s development and learning and, thereby, the complexity of a phenomenon such as paternal incarceration. The impact of direct and indirect relationships is viewed alongside the impact of cultural environments and influences, with due attention paid to the time in which (or over which) events occur (see Bronfenbrenner, 1993).
Although this study is based in Ireland, its findings will add to the growing international literature regarding children of incarcerated parents. Previous cross-national research has suggested that varying prison/social welfare policies or disparate public opinion on crime may explain the differences between intergenerational offending rates in Sweden as compared to those in England (Murray, Janson & Farrington, 2007). Similarly, a country’s policies or a society’s opinions on crime may influence the extent to which (or manner in which) children are affected by a parent’s imprisonment. Therefore, through examining the Irish case, we stand to learn more about how experiences of paternal incarceration differ cross-nationally and, thus, perhaps to begin to identify the ingredients for a more favourable outcome for children of incarcerated parents.
Breen, J. (2010). Secondary effects of imprisonment: The new direction of prison research. Irish Probation Journal, 7, 46-64. Breen, P. A. (1995). Bridging the barriers. Corrections Today, 57(7), 98-99. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1993). Ecological models of human development. In M. Gauvain & M. Cole (Eds.), Readings on the development of children (2nd ed., pp. 37-43). New York: Freeman. Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research methods in education (7th ed.). Abingdon: Routledge. Condry, R. (2007). Families shamed: The consequences of crime for relatives of serious offenders. Cullompton: Willan. Geller, A., Garfinkel, I., Cooper, C. E., & Mincy, R. B. (2009). Parental incarceration and child well-being: Implications for urban families. Social Science Quarterly, 90(5), 1186-1202. doi: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/%28ISSN%291540-6237/issues Martyn, M. (2012). "Picking up the pieces": The rights and needs of children and families affected by imprisonment. Dublin: Irish Penal Reform Trust. Matthews, J. (1983). Forgotten victims: How prison affects the family. London: NACRO. Murray, J. (2005). The effects of imprisonment on families and children of prisoners. In A. Liebling & S. Maruna (Eds.), The effects of imprisonment (pp. 442-462). Cullompton: Willan. Murray, J., Farrington, D. P., & Sekol, I. (2012). Children's antisocial behavior, mental health, drug use, and educational performance after parental incarceration: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138(2), 175-210. doi: 10.1037/a0026407 Murray, J., Janson, C.-G., & Farrington, D. P. (2007). Crime in adult offspring of prisoners: A cross-national comparison of two longitudinal samples. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 34(1), 133-149. doi: 10.1177/0093854806289549 Nesmith, A., & Ruhland, E. (2008). Children of incarcerated parents: Challenges and resiliency, in their own words. Children and Youth Services Review, 30(10), 1119-1130. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2008.02.006 Robertson, O. (2012). Collateral convicts: Children of incarcerated parents - Recommendations and good practice from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Day of General Discussion 2011. Geneva: Quaker United Nations Office. Shaw, R. (1992). Imprisoned fathers and the orphans of justice. In R. Shaw (Ed.), Prisoners' children: What are the issues? (pp. 41-49). London: Routledge.
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