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Does Parental Incarceration Increase a Child's Risk for Foster Care Placement?

NCJ Number
National Institute of Justice Journal Issue: 255 Dated: November 2006 Pages: 12-14
Marilyn C. Moses
Date Published
November 2006
3 pages
Interim findings are presented from a study that is examining whether the children of mothers who were incarcerated in Illinois State prisons and the Cook County (Chicago) jail from 1990 to 2000 were at increased risk of being placed in foster care.
The study has found that 27 percent of the mothers had a child who had been in foster care at some point; however, the mother's incarceration was not generally the reason the child was placed in foster care. In approximately 75 percent of the cases, children were placed in foster care prior to the mother's first period of incarceration; and in just over 40 percent of those cases, the children entered foster care for as long as 3 years before their mothers' incarceration. Although this finding does not support the widely held assumption that children are placed in foster care as a direct result of their parents' incarceration, it is consistent with the results of an earlier study by the Vera Institute of Justice in New York State. That study found that a mother's incarceration overlapped with her child's stay in foster care in only 11 percent of the cases in the sample. Eighty-five percent of the children were placed in foster care before their mothers were arrested on the charges that led to their incarceration. The Illinois study will continue to examine other issues that will increase understanding of the links between the foster care and criminal justice systems. The study is matching the mothers' incarceration data with data on their children's foster care placement. 2 notes