Children of incarcerated mothers exhibit poor attachment to caregivers, mothers

May 17, 2005

Children of imprisoned mothers generally have insecure relationships with their mothers and caregivers, according to a new study published in the May/June issue of the journal Child Development. However, the children were more likely to have secure relationships with their caregivers if they were living in a stable environment.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin, assessed how children thought and felt about their close relationships and family experiences in 54 children ranging from 2 ½ to 7 ½ years old whose mothers were imprisoned. Most of the children lived with their grandparents. The researchers interviewed the incarcerated mothers, their children and the children's caregivers.

The goal was to examine family experiences associated with children's positive relationships despite the risks associated with maternal incarceration, as well as to examine children's emotional reactions to separating from their mothers during imprisonment, and how those reactions related to children's attachment relationships.

The study is important, notes author Julie Poehlmann, PhD, assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, because children of imprisoned mothers, a growing but understudied group, experience significant disruptions in their care. Over 1.3 million children in the U.S., most under 10 years old, have mothers under correctional supervision.

"Lengthy parent-child separations and changes in children's living arrangements often occur when mothers go to prison," noted Dr. Pohlmann. While several recent journal articles have suggested that such disruptions would make it quite difficult for children to develop healthy attachment relationships, this is the first study to empirically investigate the quality of such relationships.

The researchers found that 63 percent of the children had insecure relationships with their mothers and caregivers. The more secure the children's caregiving relationships, however, the more likely the children were to react to the separation from their mother with sadness rather than anger. Overall, researchers found, children's reactions to the separation from their mothers typically included sadness, worry, confusion, anger, loneliness, fear, sleep problems, and developmental regressions.

"These findings add to the growing literature linking disruptive family relationship experiences with problematic attachment relationships," said Dr. Poehlmann. "They also suggest processes associated with potential resilience in children of incarcerated mothers, and highlight the complex needs for support in families affected by maternal imprisonment, especially efforts to promote stable, continuous placements for children. The study also underscores the importance of longitudinal research with this growing but understudied group."
-end-
Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 76, Issue 3, Children of incarcerated mothers: Representations of attachment relationships in children of incarcerated mothers by Poehlmann J. (University of Wisconsin-Madison). Copyright 2005 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

Society for Research in Child Development

Related Relationships Articles from Brightsurf:

Gorilla relationships limited in large groups
Mountain gorillas that live in oversized groups may have to limit the number of strong social relationships they form, new research suggests.

Electronic surveillance in couple relationships
Impaired intimacy, satisfaction, and infidelity in a romantic relationship can fuel Interpersonal Electronic Surveillance (IES).

'Feeling obligated' can impact relationships during social distancing
In a time where many are practicing 'social distancing' from the outside world, people are relying on their immediate social circles more than usual.

We can make predictions about relationships - but is this necessary?
'Predictions as to the longevity of a relationship are definitely possible,' says Dr Christine Finn from the University of Jena.

Disruptions of salesperson-customer relationships. Is that always bad?
Implications from sales relationship disruptions are intricate and can be revitalizing.

Do open relationships really work?
Open relationships typically describe couples in which the partners have agreed on sexual activity with someone other than their primary romantic partner, while maintaining the couple bond.

The 7 types of sugar daddy relationships
University of Colorado Denver researcher looks inside 48 sugar daddy relationships to better understand the different types of dynamics, break down the typical stereotype(s) and better understand how these relationships work in the United States.

Positive relationships boost self-esteem, and vice versa
Does having close friends boost your self-esteem, or does having high self-esteem influence the quality of your friendships?

Strong family relationships may help with asthma outcomes for children
Positive family relationships might help youth to maintain good asthma management behaviors even in the face of difficult neighborhood conditions, according to a new Northwestern University study.

In romantic relationships, people do indeed have a 'type'
Researchers at the University of Toronto show that people do indeed have a 'type' when it comes to dating, and that despite best intentions to date outside that type -- for example, after a bad relationship -- some will gravitate to similar partners.

Read More: Relationships News and Relationships Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.