Separation and Detention of Parents and Children at the Border: Lessons from Impacts of Parental Incarceration on Children and Families

  • Julie Poehlmann-TynanEmail author
  • Erin Sugrue
  • Jacquelynn Duron
  • Dianne Ciro
  • Amy Messex


The crisis of family separation precipitated by the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy on the southern border has focused the nation’s attention sharply on the negative short- and long-term consequences of separating children from their parents. The negative outcomes of separating children from their parents have been documented through decades of rigorous research, with public awareness and subsequent action occurring to change practices around separation in children’s hospitals, military bases, orphanages, and child care settings. However, there is much less public awareness of the impacts of parental incarceration on children, although the numbers of children affected have increased dramatically over the past 30 years due to both criminal justice and immigration policies. This chapter will summarize recent research findings related to the detrimental impacts of parental incarceration on children and families, delineate factors that most directly relate to negative outcomes in children, establish the connection to detention of immigrant parents and effects on children, and conclude with recommendations for relevant policy and practice.


  1. Arditti, J. A. (2012). Parental incarceration and the family: Psychological and social effects of imprisonment on children, parents, and caregivers. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  2. Arditti, J. A. (2016). A family stress-proximal process model for understanding the effects of parental incarceration on children and their families. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 5(2), 65–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bell, M. F., Bayliss, D. M., Glauert, R., & Ohan, J. L. (2018). Using linked data to investigate developmental vulnerabilities in children of convicted parents. Developmental Psychology, 54(7), 1219–1231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bouchet, S. (2008). Children and families with incarcerated parents: Exploring development in the field and opportunities for growth. Retrieved from
  5. Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss, vol. II: Separation (Vol. 2). New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  6. Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss: Retrospect and prospect. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 52(4), 664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Capps, R., Koball, H., Campetella, A., Perreira, K., Hooker, S., & Pedroza, J. M. (2015). Implications of immigration enforcement activities for the well-being of children in immigrant families. Washington, DC: Urban Institute and Migration Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  8. Cassidy, J. (2016). The nature of the child’s ties. In J. Cassidy & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (3rd ed., pp. 3–22). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  9. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2015). Child welfare practice with families affected by parental incarceration. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.Google Scholar
  10. Cramer, L., Goff, M., Peterson, B., & Sandstrom, H. (2017). Parent-child visiting practices in prisons and jails. Washington, DC: Urban Institute White Paper. Retrieved from:
  11. Dallaire, D. H., & Wilson, L. C. (2010). The relation of exposure to parental criminal activity, arrest, and sentencing to children’s maladjustment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 404–418.Google Scholar
  12. Dreby, J. (2015). Everyday illegal: When policies undermine immigrant families. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  13. Eddy, J. M., & Poehlmann-Tynan, J. (Eds.). (2010). Children of incarcerated parents: A handbook for researchers and practitioners. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  14. Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The adverse childhood experiences (ACE) study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258.Google Scholar
  15. Glaze, L. E., & Maruschak, L. M. (2008). Parents in prison and their minor children. (revised March 30, 1999) Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved from
  16. Hairston, C. F. (2007). Focus on children with incarcerated parents: An overview of the research literature. A report prepared for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.Google Scholar
  17. Hernandez, D. M. (2008). Pursuant to deportation: Latinos and immigrant detention. Latino Studies, 6, 35–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. International Association of Chiefs of Police. (2014). Safeguarding children of arrested parents. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance.Google Scholar
  19. Johnson, E. I., & Waldfogel, J. (2002). Children of incarcerated parents: Cumulative risk and living arrangements. Joint Center for Poverty Research. Retrieved from
  20. Kaeble, D., & Cowhig, M. (April, 2018). Correctional populations in the United States, 2016. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. Retrieved from
  21. Kobak, R., Zajac, K., & Madsen, S. D. (2016). Attachment disruptions, reparative processes, and psychopathology: Theoretical and clinical implications. Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 25–39). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lee, R., Fang, X., & Luo, F. (2013). The impact of parental incarceration on the physical and mental health of young adults. Pediatrics, 131(4), e1188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Miller, K. M. (2006). The impact of parental incarceration on children: An emerging need for effective interventions. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 23(4), 472–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Murphey, D., & Cooper, P. M. (2015). Parents behind bars: What happens to their children. Child Trends, 42, 1–22. Retrieved from
  25. 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.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. National Research Council, Committee on Law and Justice, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. (2014). The growth of incarceration in the United States: Exploring causes and consequences. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  27. Poehlmann, J. (2005). Children’s family environments and intellectual outcomes during maternal incarceration. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(5), 1275–1285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Poehlmann, J., Dallaire, D., Loper, A. B., & Shear, L. D. (2010). Children’s contact with their incarcerated parents: Research findings and recommendations. American Psychologist, 65(6), 575.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Poehlmann-Tynan, J. (Ed.). (2015). Children’s contact with incarcerated parents. New York: Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  30. Poehlmann-Tynan, J., & Arditti, J. A. (2018). Developmental and family perspectives on incarcerated parents. In C. Wildeman, A. R., Haskins & J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Eds.), When parents are incarcerated: Interdisciplinary research and interventions to support children. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  31. Poehlmann-Tynan, J., Burnson, C., Runion, H., & Weymouth, L. A. (2017). Attachment in young children with incarcerated fathers. Development and Psychopathology, 29(2), 389–404.Google Scholar
  32. Poehlmann-Tynan, J., & Pritzl, K. (2019). Parent-child visits when parents are incarcerated in prison or jail. In J. M. Eddy & J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Eds.), Handbook on children with incarcerated parents (2nd ed.). New York: Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  33. Poehlmann-Tynan, J., Runion, H., Burnson, C., Maleck, S., Weymouth, L., Pettit, K., et al. (2015). Young children’s behavioral and emotional reactions to plexiglas and video visits with jailed parents. In J. Poehlmann-Tynan (Ed.), Children’s contact with incarcerated parents (pp. 39–58). Springer International Publishing.Google Scholar
  34. Rojas-Flores, L. (October 18, 2017). Latino US citizen children of immigrants—A generation at high risk: Summary of selected young scholars program (YSP) research. Foundation for Child Development.Google Scholar
  35. Shlafer, R. J., Poehlmann, J., & Donelan-McCall, N. (2012). Maternal jail time, conviction, and arrest as predictors of children's 15-year antisocial outcomes in the context of a nurse home visiting program. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 41(1), 38–52.Google Scholar
  36. Shlafer, R. J., & Poehlmann, J. (2010). Attachment and caregiving relationships in families affected by parental incarceration. Attachment & Human Development, 12(4), 395–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Vera Institute of Justice. (2018). The state of justice reform 2018. New York, NY: Vera Institute of Justice.
  38. Wakefield, S., & Wildeman, C. (2011). Mass imprisonment and racial disparities in childhood behavioral problems. Criminology & Public Policy, 10, 793–817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wakefield, S., & Wildeman, C. (2013). Children of the prison boom: Mass incarceration and the future of American inequality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Wildeman, C., Goldman, A. W., & Turney, K. (2018). Parental incarceration and child health in the United States. Epidemiologic Reviews, 40(1), 146–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wildeman, C., Haskins, A. R., & Poehlmann-Tynan, J. (2017). When parents are incarcerated: Interdisciplinary research and interventions to support children. APA Bronfenbrenner Series on the Ecology of Human Development. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  42. Yoshikawa, H., Kholoptseva, J., & Suárez-Orozco, C. (2013). The roles of public policies and community-based organization in the developmental consequences of parent undocumented status. Society for Research in Child Development Social Policy Report, 27, 1–23. Retrieved from
  43. Young, D., & Smith, C. J. (2000). When moms are incarcerated: The needs of children, mothers, and caregivers. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 81, 130–141.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie Poehlmann-Tynan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Erin Sugrue
    • 2
  • Jacquelynn Duron
    • 3
  • Dianne Ciro
    • 4
  • Amy Messex
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Human Ecology, Human Development and Family StudiesUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Social Work DepartmentAugsburg UniversityMinneapolisUSA
  3. 3.School of Social WorkRutgers University–New BrunswickNew BrunswickUSA
  4. 4.School of Social WorkSan Diego State UniversitySan DiegoUSA
  5. 5.Facundo Valdez School of Social WorkNew Mexico Highlands UniversityAlbuquerqueUSA

Personalised recommendations