Impacts on Young Children

Development Domains

Parental Incarceration meets the criteria of complex trauma as there is often exposed to multiple traumatic events e.g. violent arrests, detainment and it disrupts many aspects of child development. Furthermore, the parental incarceration is one of the Top 10 ACEs that have been identified by the CDC (Osei & Levenson, 2018).


Trauma from parental incarceration may cause delays in socioemotional development. Young children show signs of emotional distress e.g., aggression, and struggle with attachment to their primary caregiver (Mullane, 2017).  Moreover, children with incarcerated parents experience increased stress due to the social stigmas associated with incarceration. Children experience bullying from their peers and bias from teachers and (Osei & Levenson, 2018). The stigma of incarceration means that children are unlikely to seek social support which only exacerbates the problem (Osei & Levenson, 2018).


Children with incarcerated parents are at high-risk for developmental consequences that arise from toxic stress. They are twice as likely to have conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, obesity, and sleep disorders. Long term cortisol elevation may lead to the dysfunction in the neural system, immune response, and changes in brain architecture (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2014)

“Children with incarcerated parents are at high-risk for

developmental consequences that arise from toxic stress.”


Children with incarcerated parents are at risk for greater behavior issues. Common symptoms of trauma include antisocial behaviors, aggression, internalizing, and externalizing behaviors (Wildeman, 2018).


The trauma and or toxic stress experienced by children puts them at risk for cognitive problems (Osei & Levenson, 2018). They are also more likely to experience poor academic performance and have higher drop-out rates (Osei & Levenson, 2018).

Long term consequences

Trauma from parental incarceration continues to develop into adolescence and adulthood.  Negative outcomes includes mental health issues (e.g. depression, anxiety and drug use), (Mullane, 2017). Children are also at greater risk of entering the criminal justice system themselves ( Morgan‑Mullane, 2017). Furthermore, trauma and developmental delays will likely have an impact on later relationships and achievement.