Mental health of adolescents with currently and formerly incarcerated parents

Laurel Davis, Rebecca J. Shlafer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Reliable information about children of incarcerated people is difficult to obtain, and major gaps exist in our understanding of their well-being. This study aims to determine whether adolescents with incarcerated parents report higher levels of mental health problems than those without an incarcerated parent, and whether the relationship between parental incarceration and adolescent mental health is moderated by parent-child relationships. Using a statewide survey from one US state, we compared adolescents with a currently incarcerated parent to those with a formerly incarcerated parent and those with no history of parental incarceration on self-reported indicators of mental health, and examined whether strong parent-child relationships were protective against mental health concerns. Results indicate that adolescents with incarcerated parents are at elevated risk for mental health problems, and strong parent-child relationships partially buffer children from risk. Findings underscore the need for more investment in effective early interventions for adolescents in highly adverse contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)120-134
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Adolescence
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health Award Number UL1TR000114. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.


  • Adolescent well-being
  • Mental health
  • Parent-child closeness
  • Parental incarceration

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