OBJECTIVE. The goal was to evaluate whether children of incarcerated fathers are more likely to report or exhibit behavioral symptoms than their equally disadvantaged peers without an incarcerated father.

METHODS. During an ongoing longitudinal study of intrauterine cocaine exposure involving 102 children (50% male and 89% black) from urban, low-income homes, questions regarding incarceration of the child's father were asked of the child's primary caregiver at each visit during school age. Children were administered the Children's Depression Inventory between the ages of 6 and 11 years, and their primary caregivers completed the Child Behavior Checklist. In addition, the children's teachers completed the Teacher Report Form. Children's Depression Inventory, Child Behavior Checklist, and Teacher Report Form data obtained at the oldest available age after the first report of paternal incarceration were analyzed.

RESULTS. In bivariate analyses, children whose fathers were in jail had higher Children's Depression Inventory total scores compared with children without incarcerated fathers, indicating more depressive symptoms. This finding was robust in multivariate analyses after adjustment for children's age, gender, prenatal cocaine and alcohol exposure, and school-age violence exposure. Teachers reported higher Teacher Report Form externalizing scores for children whose fathers were in jail, after adjustment for age, gender, prenatal cocaine and marijuana exposure, and school-age violence exposure.

CONCLUSIONS. Children of incarcerated fathers reported more depressive symptoms and their teachers noted more externalizing behaviors, after controlling for other biopsychosocial risks. Interventions targeted to ameliorate the distress of children with incarcerated fathers should be considered.

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