A parent’s criminal justice involvement (CJI) can have a lasting impact on their children. Additionally, if these children are involved in Child Protective Services (CPS) they have often faced a form of abuse or neglect and they may be increasingly vulnerable to additional risks. Although a literature base exists that describes patterns of behavior for children when parents are incarcerated, few studies have examined child outcomes when a maternal primary caregiver (MPCG) was arrested. If this arrest occurred early on during sensitive periods for a child’s development, the effects of a MPCG arrest could be particularly impactful. Prior research has demonstrated that children with parents who experience CJI exhibit worse behaviors, worse academic outcomes, and weaker peer-relationships. Yet, how important factors like behavior problems and peer relationships associate with the relation between MPCG arrests and children’s academic achievement is widely unknown. The two studies in this dissertation explore factors that may be contributing or detracting from the relation between MPCG arrest status and children’s academic achievement among two groups of children: children that experienced a MPCG arrest when they were between zero and five years old and children that did not experience a MPCG arrest. Although all children were CPS involved, the additional risk factor of having a MPCG arrested during an important developmental time was hypothesized to be increasingly influential for these children.
Study 1 explored how MPCG arrest status was related to children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior problem scores and literacy and math when children were between six and a half and 10 years old (wave one), and examined if child gender moderated these associations. The second research question investigated if behavior problems mediated the association between MPCG arrest status and children’s academic achievement, and if child gender moderated these associations. Results demonstrated that children in the MPCG arrest group scored better academically and behaviorally when children were between six and a half and 10 years old (wave one) and worse academically compared to children without a MPCG who was arrested when children were between eight and 11.5 years old (wave two). Behavior problems did not mediate this relation, nor did child gender moderate the mediation. However, child gender did significantly moderate several relations between MPCG arrest status and children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior scores and between internalizing behavior scores and children’s math skills. Specifically, females in the MPCG arrest group had higher behavior problem scores (worse behavior) for both internalizing and externalizing behavior problems at wave one compared to male children in the MPCG arrest group. Female children that then had higher internalizing behavior scores performed better on math at wave two.
Study 2 investigated if MPCG arrest status was related to children’s academic achievement when children were between nine and a half and 13 years old (wave three) and examined if child-rated peer relationship dissatisfaction and child gender moderated these associations. Results revealed that children in the MPCG arrest group scored better in both academic subjects when children were between nine and a half and 13 years old (wave three) but that these associations were not ultimately moderated by peer relationship dissatisfaction. Child gender did significantly moderate the relation between MPCG arrest status and children’s math performance when children were between nine and a half and 13 years old (wave three). Together, the results from these studies expand our understanding of how MPCG arrests during early childhood are related to children’s behavioral, social, and academic outcomes over time. Implications for targeted intervention efforts to aid children that experience parent CJI and recommendations to propel research efforts in this area are discussed.