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Attachment in young children with incarcerated fathers

  • Julie Poehlmann-Tynan (a1), Cynthia Burnson (a1), Hilary Runion (a1) and Lindsay A. Weymouth (a1)


The present study examined young children's attachment behaviors during paternal incarceration and reported on initial validity of a new measure used to rate children's attachment-related behaviors and emotions during visits in a corrections setting. Seventy-seven children, age 2 to 6 years, and their jailed fathers and current caregivers participated in the home visit portion of the study, whereas 28 of these children participated in the jail visit. The results indicated that 27% of children witnessed the father's crime and 22% of children witnessed the father's arrest, with most children who witnessed these events exhibiting extreme distress; children who witnessed these events were more likely to have insecure attachments to their caregivers. Consistent with attachment theory and research, caregivers who exhibited more sensitivity and responsivity during interactions with children and those who provided more stimulating, responsive, learning-oriented home environments had children who were more likely to have secure attachments (measured with the Attachment Q-Sort). We also found preliminary evidence for the validity of our new measure, the Jail Prison Observation Checklist, in that children's attachment-related behaviors and emotions during the jail visit correlated with their attachment security observed in the home. Our observations indicate that, in certain contexts, noncontact visits with incarcerated parents can be stressful for children and that children's caregivers may play a significant role during these visits.


Corresponding author

Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1300 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706; E-mail:


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This research was supported by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R21HD068581, Principal Investigator J.P.-T.) as well as a center grant from the National Institutes of Health that funds the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (P30HD03352, Principal Investigator Marsha Mailick). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH. Special thanks to the Racine, Dane, and Sauk County Sheriff's offices and jail staff for their support of the project; to Beverlee Baker, Susan Bulla, Sarah Maleck, Mary Huser, and Sue Nagelkerk from University of Wisconsin–Extension for their work on the project; to numerous undergraduate students for assistance with data collection and coding; and to the families who participated in this research.



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Attachment in young children with incarcerated fathers

  • Julie Poehlmann-Tynan (a1), Cynthia Burnson (a1), Hilary Runion (a1) and Lindsay A. Weymouth (a1)


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