Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 1914–1928 | Cite as

Risk, Protection, and Adjustment among Youth with Incarcerated and Non-Resident Parents: A Mixed-Methods Study

  • Elizabeth I. Johnson
  • Joyce A. Arditti
  • Casey M. McGregor
Original Paper


Parental incarceration has been increasingly recognized as a significant threat to the development and well-being of millions of American children and youth. After decades of documenting problems among youth with incarcerated parents, researchers have now started to emphasize the critical need for research on heterogeneity and competence in this population. Towards this end, we used a mixed-methods approach to identify different subgroups of youth with incarcerated and non-resident parents (n = 26) and to explore potential patterns of individual and family factors across groups. Cluster analysis suggested four different subgroups of youth that varied in the extent to which they exhibited behavior problems and competence. The majority of youth were classified as “adjusted” or “striving”, with comparatively few categorized as either “thriving” or “vulnerable”. Thematic analysis of qualitative data suggested that groups varied in terms of the extent to which they experienced economic and residential instability and challenges related to their social location, as well as caregiver positive expressiveness, agency, and social support. Results further indicated that although parental incarceration may be a part of an overall profile of risk, it does not appear to consistently distinguish youth separated from parents for different reasons in terms of patterns of adjustment and competence.


Parental incarceration Nonresident parents Risk factors Protective factors Adjustment 



This paper is based on data from a pilot study funded by the Institute of Society, Culture, and Environment (ISCE) at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). The authors would like to thank the children and caregivers who participated in this study as well as the community-based organization that helped us recruit participants. We are also grateful to Amanda Capannola, Macy Halladay, Rachel Harr, and Lexi Jantz for their research assistance and to Amy Rauer for helpful comments on an earlier draft.

Author Contributions

E. I. J.: Contributed to study design, conducted quantitative and qualitative data analyses, and wrote the paper. J. A.: designed and executed the study, contributed to the qualitative analyses, and collaborated in the writing and editing of the manuscript. C. M.: conducted qualitative analyses and edited drafts of the paper.

Ethics Approval

This study was approved by the Institutional Review Boards at Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee.

Informed Consent

Informed consent and assent were obtained from all individual participants included in this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth I. Johnson
    • 1
  • Joyce A. Arditti
    • 2
  • Casey M. McGregor
    • 2
  1. 1.University of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  2. 2.Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State UniversityBlacksburgUSA

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