Parental Incarceration, Child Adversity, and Child Health: A Strategic Comparison Approach




Jackson, Dylan B.
Testa, Alexander
Semenza, Daniel C.
Vaughn, Michael G.

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Background: Research points to parental incarceration as an important social determinant of child health. Even so, studies examining the health impact of parental incarceration in the context of diverse childhood stressors and adversities are lacking. Methods: The present study uses a large, nationally representative sample to compare U.S. children who were exposed to parental incarceration to a strategic comparison group of U.S. children who were not exposed to parental incarceration, but were nonetheless exposed to alternative family stressors and adversities. Results: The initial findings generally reveal worse health among children exposed to parental incarceration compared to those who are not exposed. Even so, these differences were partially or completely attenuated when comparing the incarceration-exposed group to more comparable groups of children exposed to a varying degree of alternative stressors/adversities. Conclusions: Programmatic efforts targeting parental incarceration as a means of promoting child health may be enhanced by adequately addressing co-occurring family stressors and child adversities.



adverse childhood experiences, parental incarceration, health, children, stress, adversity, strategic comparison


International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18 (7): 3384 (2021)


Criminology and Criminal Justice