Does maternal incarceration predict maladaptive behavior in their children?

Does maternal incarceration predict maladaptive behavior in their children?

Significance of the study

            Incarceration in United States has increased in an alarming rate within the past few decades with most of incarcerated individuals comprising of parents. As explained by David (2014), female incarceration has particularly increased by three folds within the last thirty years, which has been attributed by a radical transformation in sentencing policies and increased female involvement in criminal activities. Within the last three decades, drastic increase in female incarceration has seen female prison population becoming the most rapidly growing prison segment. Statistical evidence shows that the total female population as at 2006 was 203,100, which represented 24% of the total prison population in the United States. Over 65% of these females were parents to more than 1,559,200 minor children and more than 64% of them had been living with their children before being incarcerated (Goertz, 2012). Most studies have traditionally been inclined towards paternal incarceration with the aim of establishing the various detrimental effects it can have on children’s wellbeing. This inclination is warranted, as fathers have traditionally been prone to incarceration than mothers. Similarly, paternal separation has been associated with significant economic, educational and material deprivation among children since most male parents act as the sole breadwinners while their female counterparts assume other domestic chores that include taking care of children. On this note, women become important role players in promoting the emotional, psychological and social wellbeing of their children. Scholarly evidence further indicates that female parents are mostly the primary caregivers to their children.

This is evidenced by the fact that the children of incarcerated fathers live with their mother when the father is imprisoned while the children of incarcerated mothers are put in extended or foster families when their mothers are incarcerated. Scholarly evidence indicates that mothers are crucial in providing children with nurturance and care. They teach children important perceptual, physical, verbal communication and self-care skills. They also orient their children in the immediate environment, the neighborhood and the wider community while on the other hand transmitting the societal and cultural values. Mothers also promote interpersonal skills in their children as well as guide them in formulating their own goals and coordinate their activities (Goertz, 2012). This indicates that incarcerating such parents would interfere with their ability to fulfill the various parental responsibilities while their children on the other hand suffer for lack of maternal support. Although the actual number of children suffering as a result of parental incarceration is not known, estimates indicate that over 1.7 million children, which is equivalent to 2.3% of the entire American population, experience separation from their parents as a result of incarceration (David, 2014). While most children may not have previously experienced long-term separation from their mothers, this might happen for the first time when the mothers are incarcerated. As a result, the drastic change might perpetuate significant implications that might impact a child’s development. Although several studies have confirmed that mother-child separation through maternal incarceration can lead to emotional distress, trauma and depression. There is no significant study that has sought to establish whether maternal incarceration can lead to development of maladaptive behaviors in children (Danielle, 2011). This inquiry thus aims to investigate whether maternal incarceration predicts maladaptive behavior in their children. This will play an important role in significantly contributing to the prevailing stock of knowledge as well as help to bridge the gap in scholarly research.

Research topic

Does maternal incarceration predict maladaptive behavior in their children?

Study objectives

In order to help respond to the study question, the topic of inquiry will be broken down into specific objectives that can easily be translated into measureable study questions. The study objectives include

  • To establish whether there are children experiencing separation due to maternal incarceration in United States
  • To determine whether children experiencing separation due to maternal incarceration in United States are put under foster care
  • To determine whether maternal incarceration predicts withdrawal as a maladaptive behavior in their children
  • To establish whether maternal incarceration predicts negative attachment between their children and foster caregivers as a maladaptive behavior
  • To find out whether maternal incarceration predicts increased school absenteeism as a maladaptive behavior in their children
  • To find out whether maternal incarceration predicts increased aggression as a maladaptive behavior in their children
  • To establish whether maternal incarceration predicts attention seeking as a maladaptive behavior in their children
  • To establish whether maternal incarceration predicts unsuitable response to others as a maladaptive behavior in their children
  • To draw conclusions on whether maternal incarceration predicts maladaptive behaviors in their children
  • To make significant recommendations on how maladaptive behaviors resulting from maternal incarceration can be addressed.

Research questions

In order to ensure that the study outcomes are measurable, the study objectives will be translated into specific study questions to guide the study. The research questions include:

  • Are there children experiencing separation due to maternal incarceration in United States?
  • Does children experiencing separation due to maternal incarceration in United States put under foster care?
  • Does maternal incarceration predict withdrawal as a maladaptive behavior in children?
  • Does maternal incarceration predict negative attachment between children and foster caregivers as a maladaptive behavior?
  • Does maternal incarceration predict increased school absenteeism as a maladaptive behavior in children?
  • Does maternal incarceration predict increased aggression as a maladaptive behavior in children?
  • Does maternal incarceration predict attention seeking as a maladaptive behavior in children?
  • Does maternal incarceration predict unsuitable response to others as a maladaptive behavior in their children
  • What conclusive views can you give on whether maternal incarceration predicts maladaptive behaviors in children?
  • What recommendations can you make on how maladaptive behaviors resulting from maternal incarceration can be addressed?

Research hypothesis

This inquiry aims to test the following hypothesis:

H0 There is no direct correlation between maternal incarceration and children’s school test scores

H1 There is a direct relationship between maternal incarceration and maladaptive behavior in children

 

Study variables                                                                            dependent variables

 

 

 

Withdrawal

 

negative attachment

 

 

Independent variable

  aggression  
 

maternal incarceration

 
  attention seeking

 

School absenteeism

 

 

unsuitable response to others

 

Research Method

Understanding the significant roles that female parents play in promoting the intellectual, social and physical wellbeing of their children indicates that a significant separation through incarceration can hinder the mother from fulfilling their important parental responsibilities to their children. Similarly, incarceration may interfere with a strong relationship that a mother may have established with her children. This may in return perpetuate adverse negative implications that might interfere with a child’s overall wellbeing (Danielle, 2011). Although there is a wide range of speculations relating to development of maladaptive responses to maternal incarceration among children, there is very little empirical evidence that can help to support these speculations. This research methodology is intended to guide a significant inquiry to help determine whether maternal incarceration can predict development of maladaptive behavior in children (David, 2014).

Quantitative study methodology is the most appropriate option that can be employed in this study to ensure that the study questions are effectively addressed. Quantitative methodology defines a method of research that relies on orderly empirical examination of observable phenomena using statistical techniques. This method is important in this inquiry as it will allow the application of mathematical models and hypotheses to help determine whether there is any direct correlation between the study variables. Employing quantitative approach in this study will also allow for the formulation of a narrow range of measurable and objective questions to guide the collection of sample data to help respond to the research question (Goertz, 2012). This approach will also ensure that subjective responses that can increase biasness are avoided, which will in return promote a valid representation of a wider population. It will also help to reduce complexity of examining a huge population since it can allow for the restructuring of a complex problem to few measurable variables (Danielle, 2011).

This inquiry will be inclined towards an experimental study method, which will include data-collection exercises within a controlled environment where significant variation will be present. Experimental method will be appropriate in this study, as it will enhance verification of validity in study hypotheses. This activity will mainly include a deliberate alteration of one process variable to observe the significant effects that can result from this alteration. This way, the procedure will ensure that the obtained data will eventually yield objective and reliable conclusions (David, 2014).

Research Design

            The target population for this study will include minor school-going children aged between two and nine years whose parents are incarcerated; either serving in prison, on probation or parole. This sample will be derived from the African American citizens living in Mexico City. The choice for this population is justified by the growing African American prison population, which mainly include women. The study will target both boys and girls so as to allow for the analysis a wide range of maladaptive behaviors. This is because boys and girls are bound to respond differently to stressful situations, and as such, they can exhibit varying maladaptive behavioral responses. The researcher will mainly target school going children so as to be able to measure how children’s behavior changes with the change in environment between home and school, shifting responsibilities between teachers and parents and interaction with other children. Two hundred and fifty children will take part in this study, which is a relatively huge population that can allow for the collection of valid and reliable data with significantly reduced level of biasness. Another group children with similar characteristics as the study group will be chosen to act as the control group for the study. The only difference between the study group and the control group is that the control group will include children whose parents are not incarcerated.

Sampling

Random sampling method will be employed to choose the population that will participate in the study. Through this sampling procedure, study participants will entirely be chosen by chance as long as they meet the selection criteria. This indicates that children with incarcerated parents will have an equal probability to participate in the study as long they are aged between two and nine years, African Americans, attend school and living in Mexico City. A similar approach will be used to choose children that will participate in the control group. This method will be important in this study as it will enhance validity of the study by reducing possible classification errors. The method will further be beneficial to the researcher as it does not require prior knowledge of the study population other than establishing whether they meet the criteria for participation. Its simplicity will also ensure that the collected data can easily be interpreted to allow for generalized valid conclusions (Danielle, 2011).

The study participants will be recruited from five African American elementary schools in Mexico. In order to access these participants, the researcher aims to corporate with the various administrative authorities in these schools to be able to identify two hundred and fifty children aged between two and nine years with incarcerated parents and another two hundred and fifty children aged between two and nine years with non-incarcerated parents. Corporation with the school administration will also help to link the researcher with non-incarcerated parents and foster caregivers whose children will be taking part in the exercise. The process will begin by asking for permission from the school administration authorities in order to be allowed to conduct the experimental exercises within the school premises and to engage children and parents in the exercise. To achieve this objective, the researcher will write an introductory letter in which he will explain the main objective for conducting this inquiry. He will also explain that the study outcomes will not be used for non-academic purpose, which will enhance validity of the study outcomes by ensuring that any information provided is genuine (Goertz, 2012).

Procedure

            The experimental process will begin by engaging participating children and their care givers in interactive tasks that can allow measuring the children’s behaviors.  To achieve this, foster caregivers to children with incarcerated female parents will be allowed to engage in two-hour laboratory visits where they participate in interactive activities while the foster care givers fill in a series questionnaire relating to significant change in children’s behavior. A trained research assistant will also record any behavioral changes that he notices as the child interacts with the foster caregiver. A similar procedure will be repeated with non-incarcerated parents and their children. Similar lab visits will be repeated after every six months for a period of three years to establish whether there is any significant change in behavioral patterns among the study participants. The need to engage the study participants in the lab visits is to help make significant observations in a controlled environment where the children can be allowed to interact with their caregivers without being interrupted (Danielle, 2011). The lab visits will be preceded by home visits that will be carried out on the same day as the lab visits to study the quality of residential environment as well as the type of interaction that the children have with their foster caregivers or non-incarcerated parents respectively. The need to conduct the home visits is to allow for the evaluation of children’s behavior in a natural environment that has not been modified. School teachers will also be asked to fill in a series of questionnaires relating to how children’s behaviors change within the school premises. Evaluating the children in the school environment will be important since it comprises of the only setting where children can behave with most freedom. On this note, the schoolteachers can easily notice any change in children’s behavior following separation from their incarcerated parents. Comparative observations will be conducted where the research assistants will collect different series questionnaires for different days. The class teachers will thus be asked to fill in the series questionnaires after every six months for a period of three years. The study participants will then be reimbursed after every exercise so as to compensate them for the time wasted.

Measures

Among the specific variables that this study will be measuring, include:

Mother- Child separation through incarceration: This variable will be measured through self-administered questionnaires where the study participants will be required to state whether their mother is incarcerated or not. This variable will measure at a score of 1 or 2 depending on whether the female parent is incarcerated or not: 1) yes 2) no (David, 2014).

Child depression: Child depressive symptomatology will be evaluated through the Beck Depression Inventory. The symptoms for depression will be assessed on a scale of 1 to 4 depending on how regular the children exhibit depressive behaviors: 1) never 2) rarely 3) often 4) very often (Goertz, 2012).

Aggressive attribution: attribution to aggression will be assessed through a procedure that was founded by Dodge. Through this procedure, the research assistants are able to observe how children’s behaviors change when exposed a stimuli that can trigger negative outcomes. Symptoms for aggressive behavior will be measured at the scale of 1 to 4 depending on how regular the children exhibit aggressive behaviors. Items to be included in this scale are: 1) never 2) rarely 3) often 4) very often (Goertz, 2012)

Unsuitable response: the study procedure established by Dodge will also be employed to generate an index measuring unsuitable maladaptive response. Dodge established coded responses signifying unsuitable maladaptive responses as 1) aggressive 2) passive incompetence 3) forceful competence 4) withdrawal (David, 2014).

Attention seeking: children’s conduct in relation to this variable will be assessed using self-reporting questionnaires. This variable will be measured on a scale of 1 to 4 depending on the number of times the child goes to the immediate caregiver to seek comfort and attention. The scale will be defined as follows: 1) never 2) rarely 3) often 4) very often (Goertz, 2012).

Absenteeism: this will be measured using self-reporting questionnaires relating to the frequency of school absenteeism. The scale to be employed in measuring this variable will be defined as follows: 1) never 2) rarely 3) often 4) very often (Goertz, 2012).

Ethical protection of the participants

            The researcher will ensure that any information obtained from the study respondents is not used for any other purpose but the primary educational purpose. The researcher will also ensure that any information obtained remains confidential and cannot be shared with any other person apart from those taking part in the study. Third parties that are likely to render inappropriate influences as well as those that will not be participating in the study will not be allowed to interact with the study participants (David, 2014).

Validity

            The presence of the researcher during the experimental exercise might interfere with the conduct of children and their parents or foster caregivers, which may subsequently interfere with study validity.  The exercise will also be limited to participating children but will not look into the various psychological challenges the participating adults might be facing. While this might impact the type of interaction they exhibit during the exercise, failure to address this aspect might reduce the validity of the study (Goertz, 2012).

 

References

Danielle, D. (2011). Incarcerated Mothers and Fathers: A Comparative of Risks for Children and Families, Family Relations, 56(5):88-129.

David, G. (2014). When Quantitative Analysis lies Behind a Reference Question, Reference and User Services Quarterly, 39(2):91-167.

Goertz, G. (2012). A Tale of Two Cultures: Quantitative and Qualitative Research in the Social Sciences, Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press