IU School of Medicine researcher leads study on the effects of parental incarceration
Indiana is the second highest state in the country for incarceration, largely due to the uptick in illegal opioid use, leaving more than 1 in 10 children with at least one parent behind bars. Research suggests having an incarcerated parent may negatively impact a child’s behavioral, emotional and physical health, also putting the child at an increased risk to suffer from anxiety, learning disabilities and ADD/ADHD.
A community-led study based in Indianapolis hopes to better understand the correlation between parental incarceration and its effects on a child’s overall health. IU School of Medicine researcher and professor of clinical pediatrics Angela Tomlin, PhD, has teamed up with other researchers and community partners to find potential solutions for children who are left behind.
“All too often, an incarcerated parent is a child’s first strike against them,” said Tomlin. “The early years of a child’s life are the most important for their overall development, and we want to make sure these children are able to establish supportive relationships outside of the home as a means to help them thrive.”
Through the use of database information and field research conducted across the state, the group is working to identify the number of Hoosier children in the preschool age range who have at least one parent who is incarcerated. The ultimate goal of this study is to identify areas of support and to provide solutions for these children and their families. Tomlin believes that a high-quality pre-kindergarten experience is one way to directly help children who are separated from their parents.
“If we can present evidence that attending preschool and developing supportive relationships in that environment has a positive impact on a child’s development and behavior, we hope that our state will consider putting these at-risk children at the top of the list to receive subsidized pre-k education.”
In addition to Tomlin who serves as the study’s early childhood mental health specialist, other partners of the study include community leader Shoshanna Spector, executive director of the Indianapolis Congregational Action Network (IndyCAN) and Karen Ruprecht, director of research and practice at Early Learning Indiana.
The study is being funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as part of its Interdisciplinary Research Leaders program which supports teams of researchers working together with community leaders. The group hopes to present their findings to the Indiana legislature next year.