Children with Incarcerated Parents and Developmental Trajectories of Internalizing Problems across Adolescence

Jean Kjellstrand, Gary Yu, J. Mark Eddy, Miriam Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research over the past several decades has documented the effect of parental incarceration on child development. While many findings point to a negative impact of parental incarceration on children, increasingly research demonstrates the heterogeneity of children’s experiences, behavior, and eventual outcomes. Examining this heterogeneity is key to developing effective interventions that enhance protective factors while addressing especially harmful risk factors. In the current study, we used growth mixture modeling to identify distinct trajectories of internalizing problems for youth (N = 655) from 10 to 16 years of age. We then examined the relations of the identified trajectories with parental incarceration, parent-child relationships, stressful life events, and parenting as well as future substance use, criminality, and suicidality (ideation and attempt). Four trajectory classes were identified: Low-Stable, Pre-Adolescent Limited, Moderate-Increasing, and High-Decreasing. Over half of the children who had experienced parental incarceration were best represented by the low risk trajectory. However, children with incarcerated parents were underrepresented in this trajectory and overrepresented in two of the three problematic trajectories. The trajectory classes differed significantly on many of the pre-adolescent measures as well as on adolescent delinquency, substance use, suicide ideation and suicide attempt. The Pre-Adolescent Limited, Moderate-Increasing, and High-Decreasing showed significantly higher levels of early risk factors and problematic outcomes than the Low-Stable trajectory group. Implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-69
Number of pages22
JournalAmerican Journal of Criminal Justice
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Children
  • Growth trajectories
  • Internalizing
  • Parental incarceration
  • Prevention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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