Parental Incarceration and Child Trauma Symptoms in Single Caregiver Homes

Joyce A. Arditti, Jyoti Savla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Parental incarceration is often an adverse childhood experience that has been characterized as an enduring trauma that involves ongoing and repeated stressors. In this study we focus on the role of parental incarceration in predicting child trauma symptomology as well as key mediating family processes such as visitation and children’s caregiving arrangement. We utilize a comparison group design of single caregiver and child dyads (N = 45) among similarly disadvantaged single caregiver families to first determine mean differences in child trauma symptomology. Findings revealed that both child and caregiver reports of child trauma symptomology were significantly higher in single caregiver families impacted by parental incarceration and these levels were in the clinical range (parent reports) or approached the clinical range (child reports). We then tested a mediational model examining family processes linked to child trauma symptomology. Parental incarceration was associated with more serious visitation problems (than other contexts of visitation to a nonresident parent) and children being raised by someone other than a biological parent. Parental incarceration also significantly predicted parent and child reports of child trauma symptoms. The effect of parental incarceration on parent reports of child trauma symptomology was fully mediated by the quality of children’s visitation suggesting the importance of developing interventions aimed at alleviating child distress during visits in correctional settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-561
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Child trauma
  • Family process
  • Parental incarceration
  • Single caregiver
  • Visitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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