Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Synthesis of Research and a September 2013 Listening Session

David L. DuBois, University of Illinois-Chicago
Rebecca J. Shlafer, University of Minnesota
Konrad A. Haight, AIR

About 1.7 million youth in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of parents held in prisons has risen 79 percent from 1991-2007. Youth with incarcerated parents fare worse than other youth on a range of educational and physical and mental health outcomes. Having an incarcerated parent can increase the likelihood that a young person becomes involved in antisocial and delinquent behavior. Given the level of family disruption these young people experience, mentoring is a powerful and positive intervention that can provide caring, trusting adults to those whose parents are absent.

Released at the end of January, Mentoring Children of Incarcerated Parents: A Synthesis of Research and a September 2013 Listening Session synthesizes research and the voices and opinions of mentoring experts, practitioners, parents and youth shared at a listening session. The report and listening session were sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and the White House's Domestic Policy Council and Office of Public Engagement.

Recommendations for federal support for high quality mentoring programs and services for children of incarcerated parents emerged from this work and include the need for the following:

  • Structured, strategic supports such as timely and affordable background checks during the mentor screening process and assistance in engaging high-quality mentors from diverse backgrounds.
  • Cultivation of a community of practice to share resources and ideas among mentoring programs, including peer learning and program collaboration and leveraging OJJDP’s National Mentoring Resource Center.
  • Investments in research to generate a better understanding of the effectiveness of mentoring—such as an examination of youth outcomes as they relate to program characteristics and practices, quality of the mentoring relationship, and varied life circumstances and backgrounds.

“This report offers a unique opportunity to take stock of the state of knowledge on mentoring as a strategy to support children of incarcerated parents,” said Roger Jarjoura, Ph.D., principal researcher at AIR. “It provides clear guidance to federal agencies on facilitating high quality mentoring programs.”

The report was co-authored by Jarjoura and Konrad Haight. David DuBois, an Institute for Health research and policy fellow at the University of Illinois-Chicago and Rebecca Schlafer, assistant professor of pediatrics and adolescent health at the University of Minnesota, were also co-authors.

More about AIR’s work on mentoring

Image of Roger Jarjoura
Principal Researcher