Exploring Parental Incarceration, US Government Support Programs, and Child Health and Well-Being: A National Cross-Sectional Study

Destiny G. Tolliver, Laura C. Hawks, Louisa W. Holaday, Emily A. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives: To describe relationships between parental incarceration and child health and flourishing—a measure of curiosity, resilience, and self-regulation—and to identify government programs that moderate this relationship. Methods: Using the National Survey of Children's Health data from 2016 through 2019 for children 6-17 years old, we estimated associations with logistic regression between parental incarceration and overall health and flourishing, adjusting for child, caregiver, and household factors. We secondarily examined physical health (asthma, headaches), mental health (attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression), developmental needs (learning disability, special educational plan use), and educational (missing ≥11 school days, repeated grade) outcomes. We performed interaction analyses to determine whether government program participation (eg, free/reduced lunch, cash assistance) moderated relationships between parental incarceration and child outcomes. Results: Children with parental incarceration accounted for 9.3% of the sample (weighted n = 4 400 000). Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and multiracial children disproportionately experienced parental incarceration. Parental incarceration was associated with worse health (aOR, 1.31; 95% CI, 1.11-1.55) and higher odds of not flourishing (aOR, 1.66; 95% CI, 1.46-1.89). Physical health, mental health, developmental issues, and educational needs were also associated with parental incarceration. Participation in free and reduced lunch moderated the relationships between parental incarceration and general health and flourishing, and cash assistance moderated the association between parental incarceration and flourishing. For each, parental incarceration had an attenuated association with health among people who participated in government programs. Conclusions: Parental incarceration is disproportionately experienced by Black and Indigenous children and associated with worse child health and well-being. Government support program participation may mitigate negative associations between parental incarceration and child outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113764
JournalJournal of Pediatrics
Volume264
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2024

Keywords

  • health inequities
  • mass incarceration
  • public policy
  • structural racism

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