Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 45, Issue 6, pp 1090–1109 | Cite as

Promoting Educational Resiliency in Youth with Incarcerated Parents: The Impact of Parental Incarceration, School Characteristics, and Connectedness on School Outcomes

  • Emily B. Nichols
  • Ann B. Loper
  • J. Patrick Meyer
Empirical Research


The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and as a result, one of the largest populations of incarcerated parents. Growing evidence suggests that the incarceration of a parent may be associated with a number of risk factors in adolescence, including school drop out. Taking a developmental ecological approach, this study used multilevel modeling to examine the association of parental incarceration on truancy, academic achievement, and lifetime educational attainment using the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health (48.3 % female; 46 % minority status). Individual characteristics, such as school and family connectedness, and school characteristics, such as school size and mental health services, were examined to determine whether they significantly reduced the risk associated with parental incarceration. Our results revealed small but significant risks associated with parental incarceration for all outcomes, above and beyond individual and school level characteristics. Family and school connectedness were identified as potential compensatory factors, regardless of parental incarceration history, for academic achievement and truancy. School connectedness did not reduce the risk associated with parental incarceration when examining highest level of education. This study describes the school related risks associated with parental incarceration, while revealing potential areas for school-based prevention and intervention for adolescents.


Children with incarcerated parents School outcomes Adolescence Drop out Resiliency Multilevel modeling School connectedness Family connectedness 



This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by Grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( This research uses data from the AHAA study, which was funded by a Grant (R01 HD040428-02, Chandra Muller, PI) from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and a Grant (REC-0126167, Chandra Muller, PI, and Pedro Reyes, Co-PI) from the National Science Foundation. This research was also supported by Grant, 5 R24 HD042849, Population Research Center, awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Health and Child Development. Opinions reflect those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the granting agencies. No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 or Grant R01 HD040428-02 for this analysis.

Author Contributions

Emily B. Nichols conceived of the study, participated in its design, conducted statistical analysis and data interpretation, and drafted the manuscript; Ann B. Loper participated in the study design, interpretation of the data, and editing of the manuscript; J. Patrick Meyer participated in the design of the study, consulted on the statistical analysis, and interpretation of the data. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors report no conflict of interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emily B. Nichols
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ann B. Loper
    • 1
  • J. Patrick Meyer
    • 3
  1. 1.Program in Clinical and School Psychology, Department of Human Services, Curry School of EducationUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Developmental Medicine CenterBoston Children’s HospitalBostonUSA
  3. 3.Research, Statistics, and Evaluation Program, Department of Leadership, Foundations, and Policy, Curry School of EducationUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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