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Conference spotlights consequences of parental incarceration

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By H. Roger Segelken for the Cornell Chronicle:

haskins

Anna Haskins speaking

With millions of American parents, mostly fathers, locked in jails and prisons, a national conference at Cornell Sept. 15-16 shined the spotlight on their kids back home.

“Minimizing the Collateral Damage: Interventions to Diminish the Consequences of Mass Incarceration for Children” was the topic of the Fifth Biennial Urie Bronfenbrenner Conference, featuring a multidisciplinary mix of scholars from more than a dozen institutions and programs.

“One of the most shocking phenomena this country has witnessed in the last century has been the unprecedented rise in mass incarceration,” said conference co-organizer Anna Haskins, Cornell assistant professor of sociology and member of the Center for the Study of Inequality. An estimated 1 in 14 American children (about 7 percent) has a parent incarcerated at some point in their young lives, observed Haskins. Of special concern, she emphasized, “is the overwhelming disparity in which this issue touches African-American and Hispanic but not white populations.”

Haskins hopes the conference opens new areas of inquiry for social scientists. “We know more about the deleterious consequences for imprisoned individuals and former inmates,” she said, “but less attention has been paid to the broader fallout for families.”

The conference series and the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) are named for Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005), the renowned developmental psychologist who taught at Cornell for more than 50 years and developed the so-called ecological systems theory. Several conference-goers said the ecological approach could help to untangle incarceration’s effect on family and society.

wildeman

Christopher Wildeman speaking

Christopher Wildeman, associate director of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research and associate professor of policy analysis and management, speaks at the conference.
Said conference co-organizer Christopher Wildeman, BCTR associate director and associate professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology: “The conference’s multidisciplinary focus, in addition to being highly consistent with Urie’s own academic orientation, is also unique within this research field – where psychologists, sociologists, economists and criminologists who study the consequences of parental incarceration rarely publish in the same journals, attend the same conferences or grapple with each others’ perspectives.”

One productive outcome of the conference, Wildeman said, will be a proceedings volume with authors from all those fields, published by the American Psychological Association.

A third conference co-organizer, Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, professor of human ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said that “developmental perspectives are lacking” so far in most studies of incarceration’s consequences. Scholars need to know “how parental incarceration can get under the skin of children and influence through an entire life course.” When considering a child’s resilience in the face of parental incarceration, Poehlmann-Tynan said, researchers should remember “resilience is a process, not a characteristic or trait.” Some children appear to do surprisingly well during parental incarceration, she said. “We can’t paint the picture that parental incarceration (inevitably) is doom.”

Sara Wakefield, an associate professor in the Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice (and co-author, with Wildeman, of “Children of the Prison Boom: Mass Incarceration and the Future of American Inequality”) sought to correct some popular misconceptions. Many parents hide their criminal activity from their children – until, that is, they’re arrested, prosecuted and punished, she said. Furthermore, long sentences in state or federal prisons aren’t the only source of stigma and trauma among convicts’ children. Hundreds of thousands of Americans cycle through local jails every month, Wakefield said, “and even short spells in jail are highly consequential for children.”

Sociologist Kristin Turney, from the University of California, Irvine, highlighted possible effects of parental incarceration, including strains on parental relationships, economic well-being and health, and suggested children might develop behavior problems or experience diminished cognitive skills. Among the youngest children of incarcerated parents, boys seem to be most affected, Turney said. But as children mature, girls are more likely to be troubled by a father’s incarceration.

Joyce Arditti, professor of human development and family studies at Virginia Tech, reported some children growing up with an incarcerated biological parent they never knew – outside or inside prison walls – can still be affected by that stigmatizing association.

As for the Bronfenbrenner conference venue as an apt place to discuss family-ecological perspectives of child development, Arditti said: “It’s kind of cool to be here in his ‘backyard.’”

Conference spotlights consequences of parental incarceration - Cornell Chronicle

Video of the full conference is available on our YouTube channel and in the media library on this web site.

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Fifth Biennial Urie Bronfenbrenner Conference

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Minimizing the Collateral Damage: Interventions to Diminish the Consequences of Mass Incarceration for Children

September 15-16, 2016

Conference program

The fifth biennial conference in honor of the legacy of Urie Bronfenbrenner convened a panel of leading researchers in an effort to cultivate interdisciplinary perspectives and consider the micro-, meso-, and macro-level interventions that best minimize the consequences of parental incarceration for children, families, and communities. Presentations emphasized the strongest interdisciplinary research on the consequences of paternal and maternal incarceration for children (with special attention to mediators and moderators) as well as discussing policies and individual-level interventions that could help lessen the likelihood of parental incarceration or help children whose parents have experienced incarceration. The conference’s overarching goal is to strengthen the connections between research, policy, and practice in the area of collateral consequences of mass incarceration for children.

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Doing Translational Research podcast: Christopher Wildeman

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Incarceration and Inequality
Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Christopher Wildeman
Department of Policy Analysis & Management, Cornell University

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Doing Translational Research podcast with Chris Wildeman

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wildemanIn episode 6 of the BCTR podcast Doing Translational Research, center director Karl Pillemer talks with Christopher Wildeman about his research on mass incarceration and inequality. Christopher Wildeman is an associate professor of policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell, where he is also co-director of the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect and a faculty fellow here in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research.

Chris talks about his research and the way working with communities has strengthened his work. His research and teaching interests revolve around the consequences of mass imprisonment for inequality, with emphasis on families, health, and children. He is also interested in child welfare, especially as relates to child maltreatment and the foster care system.

Ep. 6: Incarceration and Inequality with Christopher Wildeman - Doing Translational Research podcast

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Conference shares latest youth development research

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By Olivia M. Hall from the Cornell Chronicle:

burrow presenting

Anthony Burrow, assistant professor of human development and PRYDE co-director, presents a poster on youth and life purpose at the Youth Development Research Update.

Runaway slaves, social media, environmental education, the wisdom of elders – the sixth annual Youth Development Research Update June 1-2 in Ithaca covered a lot of ground.

Funded by the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) in the College of Human Ecology, the conference brought together 55 Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and program leaders, youth service providers from community agencies and Cornell faculty members from across campus to explore how these and other topics relate to children and teens and how to better serve their needs.

“This event creates a unique, interactive space for practitioners and researchers to engage in sustained dialogue about ongoing research and the potential for future collaboration,” said assistant professor of human development Anthony Burrow, who organized the event with Jutta Dotterweich, director of training for BCTR’s ACT for Youth project.

Stephanie Graf, a Youth and Family Program leader with Jefferson County Extension, has developed several fruitful partnerships over five years of attending the conference. For a past project on Defiant Gardens for military families, for example, she worked with professor of natural resources Marianne Krasny, who this year spoke about environmental education programs to support positive youth development.

Krasny outlined how environmental stewardship activities have potential to stimulate positive growth in young people, leading to healthier physical habits, skills for future employment or greater self-confidence and emotional self-regulation. Educators, meanwhile, face the challenge of guiding youth without overly imposing their own experiences and decision-making – a dilemma for which she suggested a reflective practice of providing structure, support, mutual learning, open communication and ultimate accountability. “Positive youth development is possible,” she said, “but it’s not easy.”

Graf found research by Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of policy analysis and management and a BCTR faculty fellow, on the stigma associated with parental incarceration to be equally relevant to her work, where she sometimes encounters children of inmates in her county’s after-school programs.

Wildeman reviewed research on the United States’ historically high rate of incarceration – which at 500 prisoners per 100,000 citizens far outstrips other developed democracies – and its disproportionately negative impact on minority families. He then described a new experimental study in which teachers, presented with hypothetical students new to their classroom, expected more behavioral problems and less competence from children whose fathers are in prison. These results support the “sticky stigma” attached to paternal incarceration, Wildeman said.

History professor Edward Baptist drew a link from Wildeman’s talk when discussing his Freedom on the Move project. “I think that mass incarceration probably wouldn’t exist and certainly wouldn’t have the shape that it does without the strategies that were created to try to control and continue to force people into the institution of slavery,” Baptist said.

One such strategy was for slave masters to place runaway slave ads in newspapers, reinforcing the persistent scrutiny under which even free African-Americans found themselves. Collaborating with colleagues at Cornell and other universities, Baptist has built a crowdsourcing platform that will engage the public in transcribing and parsing data from some 200,000 ads that survive from the period between 1722 and 1865.

A poster session on the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE) concluded the conference, allowing attendees to question researchers about work in its four focus areas: healthy transitions for adolescents; intergenerational connections between high schoolers and older adults; the productive use of social media; and leveraging youth purpose to increase engagement and learning in 4-H.

Burrow, PRYDE co-director, said: “The update provides a rare space for researchers to attend a conference alongside needed collaborators. It’s like having your cake and eating it, too.”

 

Conference shares latest youth development research - Cornell Chronicle

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Alumni gifts to the center support the greater good

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Growing up on a dairy farm in rural Vermont, Rebecca Q. Morgan '60 was drawn to 4-H. At cattle shows and fashion displays and as president of her local club, Morgan says eight years in 4-H taught her everything from public speaking and accounting to leadership and dressmaking.

preschoolers examine butterflies at Madison County Head Start

Preschoolers examine butterflies at the Madison County Head Start, a new partner for Casasola's research thanks to her work as a BCTR Faculty Fellow. Photo: Madison County Head Start/provided.

"It was a wonderful outlet for me to develop a great deal of practical skills and gain confidence in my abilities," says Morgan, who went on to become a California state senator, where she stood out as an advocate for child development and education.

With a $1.2 million gift to Cornell's Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR), Morgan is giving back to improve 4-H and community-based youth education programs from the ground up. Her gift, made in late 2015, provides three years of startup funding for the Program for Research on Youth Development and Engagement (PRYDE), an initiative launched this spring by Cornell social scientists to foster groundbreaking research in partnership with New York State 4-H and its 200,000 children and teen participants in four areas: life purpose, healthy transitions into adolescence, intergenerational connections and productive social media use. In close collaboration with 4-H staff and youth, PRYDE seeks to integrate evidence into new and existing programs while also sparking young people's interest in social science.

The BCTR, based in the College of Human Ecology, received another boost during the Cornell Now campaign thanks to a $1.6 million gift from Evalyn Edwards Milman '60 and Stephen Milman '58, MBA '59. The couple endowed the Evalyn Edwards Milman '60 BCTR Faculty Fellowship, part of a new program to embed professors in the BCTR and link their research directly to community needs.

Totaling nearly $3 million, the gifts represent an unprecedented level of alumni support for the center, which formed in 2011 to bridge the gap between social science research and practice.

"One of our major goals as a center is to encourage more faculty members to conduct translational research, inspiring them to consider how their work applies to real-world problems and can serve people throughout the life span," says BCTR Director Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development. "Both of these gifts provide new avenues for faculty to take cutting-edge scientific research and move it into real-world settings."

4-H teens collaborate on a STEM project

At Camp Bristol Hills in Canandaigua, N.Y., 4-H teens collaborate on a STEM project. PRYDE enables Cornell researchers to partner with community educators to work on improving 4-H and other out-of-school education programs. Photo: 4-H/provided.

In New York, Cornell oversees 4-H through the BCTR and Cornell Cooperative Extension, offering the ideal environment for PRYDE to test interventions through a community-based participatory research model developed and refined by BCTR researchers. Campus-county teams will identify research needs, design studies and interpret and disseminate data through a statewide "research ready" network.

"I am most excited that PRYDE is taking science and putting it into service to help young people," says Morgan, president of the Morgan Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to youth, education and the environment. "4-H offers a ready-made network for translating Cornell research into effective youth programs. The program is positioned to become a national leader on this topic."

PRYDE will also host campus visits and provide opportunities for 4-H members to observe social science research firsthand. Furthermore, it is forming a group of undergraduate PRYDE Scholars, launching this summer, to enable Cornell students to work with faculty mentors and train in translational research methods.

As the first Milman BCTR Faculty Fellow, Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development, is also extending her child-development research into community-based settings. Her Cornell Infant Study Laboratory works closely with Madison County, New York, Head Start, testing Casasola's previous research on how preschool children acquire spatial skills and language in a new school environment.

"I am excited that Professor Casasola has chosen to work with Head Start, for this was a vision of Professor Urie Bronfenbrenner," says Evalyn Milman, who studied under Bronfenbrenner, a child psychologist and BCTR namesake. "His purpose was to establish a comprehensive program in early childhood education -- working with children from low-income families -- designed to establish an environment for the development of cognitive skills. This research into constructive play by young children, and exploration of how spatial and language skills develop, will bring results that will have lasting impact in the field of education."

Joined by Rebecca Seguin, assistant professor of nutritional sciences, and Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of policy analysis and management, in the inaugural group of BCTR Faculty Fellows, the scholars receive funding for a graduate research assistant, pilot studies and translational research pursuits.

"With our focus on public engagement, not only do gifts to the BCTR support Cornell, but they serve the greater good due to our work helping a wide range of populations, such as struggling adolescents, children in foster care, families in the military or older adults," Pillemer says. "It will help to generate new knowledge for the benefit of communities and to allow faculty and students to marry science and service, which was a hallmark of Urie Bronfenbrenner's work."

 

Bronfenbrenner Center gifts support the greater good - Ezra Update

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Introducing the first BCTR Fellows

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Casasola, Wildeman, and Seguin

Casasola, Wildeman, and Seguin

The BCTR is proud to introduce our first faculty Fellows, who will work closely with the center from 2015-2017. Acting director Elaine Wethington notes, “our aim is to embed the fellows and their students in BCTR activities and have them learn from others doing translational research.” The Fellows Program will help further the center's translational mission by bringing faculty members in the College of Human Ecology into the orbit of the BCTR, actively encouraging their engagement with the center and it's projects, and deepening their knowledge and use of translational research.

BCTR Fellows receive two years of support that includes:

  • An academic-year graduate research assistant (GRA)
  • Pilot study funding
  • Additional funding upon request for costs related to translational research activities (for example, developing relationships with community agencies or dissemination of research to practice audiences)
  • Access to proposal-writing support, including assistance with accessing community populations, working with agencies, IRB issues in translational research, consultation on proposals (including a “mock study section” review)
  • Space for fellows' GRAs in Beebe Hall

Our inaugural fellows are Marianella Casasola, associate professor of human development, Rebecca Seguin, assistant professor of nutritional sciences, and Christopher Wildeman, associate professor of policy analysis and management. A recent article in Human Ecology Magazine presents each fellow's plans for their time in the center:

Casasola plans to continue her research on how to most effectively engender spatial skills and language in children, including their comprehension of words such as ‘rectangle,’ ‘horizontal,’ and ‘corner,’ and their mental rotation abilities.

...

Seguin will continue her research on evaluation measures designed to support healthy living in rural areas, including an objective audit tool to assess environmental factors that make healthy eating and physical activity easier or more difficult for local residents.

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Wildeman...will co-organize a BCTR conference on children of incarcerated parents, followed by an edited book on the topic. He plans to study whether teachers perceive children with incarcerated parents differently and is working on a proposal to renew the BCTR’s National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, a resource for researchers nationwide.

The new Fellows program is partially funded by a gift from Evalyn Edwards Milman ’60 and Stephen Milman ’58, MBA ’59.

 

Community Connections: Bronfenbrenner Center launches Faculty Fellows Program - Human Ecology Magazine

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Two in five African-American women know a prisoner

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news-wildeman-inpostRecent research findings, co-authored by BCTR affiliate and fellow Christopher Wildeman (Policy Analysis & Management), show that on average African-American adults, and women in particular, are more likely to be acquainted with someone who is incarcerated  than whites. Forty-four percent of black women and 32 percent of black men have a family member, neighbor, or acquaintance in prison, compared to 12 percent of white women and 6 percent of white men.

In a Cornell Chronicle article, Wildeman notes,

Our estimates show even deeper racial inequalities in connectedness to prisoners than previous work might have implied. Because imprisonment has negative consequences not only for the men and women who cycle through the system but also for the parents, partners and progeny they leave behind, mass imprisonment’s long-term consequences of racial inequality in the United States might be even greater than any of us working in this area had originally suspected.

These results show further racial inequality wrought by the U.S. prison boom, with potentially harmful consequences to families and communities lacking social supports to raise children and manage households.

The study was led by University of Washington associate professor of sociology Hedwig Lee ’03 and co-authored by Wildeman and was published by Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race. The article, Racial Inequalities in Connectedness to Imprisoned Individuals in the United States, is co-authored by Tyler McCormick at the University of Washington and Margaret Hicken at the University of Michigan. The study was unfunded.

Wildeman is co-organizer (with Anna Haskins, Sociology, and Julie Poelhmann-Tynan, University of Wisconsin - Madison) of the 2016 Bronfebrenner Conference, which will examine mass incarceration's effects on children.

 

Study: 2 in 5 African-American women know a prisoner - Cornell Chronicle
Racial inequalities in connectedness to imprisoned individuals in the United States - Du Bois Review

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