Project Case Study

Dissemination of Child Trends report: “Parents Behind Bars: What Happens to Their Children?”

Sep 08, 2016

View from above of female hand holding her husband, who was incarcerated

Project Description

The impacts of imprisonment go beyond the imprisoned. More than 5 million children in the U.S. have had a parent in state or federal prison. That is nearly 7 percent of children. Child Trends used data from the National Survey of Children’s Health to examine outcomes associated with having a parent behind bars.

This report found that parental incarceration was associated with having a higher number of other adverse childhood experiences. These experiences include events such as enduring abuse, living with a parent who is mentally ill, or witnessing neighborhood violence, and may lead to long-term, serious health and other problems. Parental incarceration was also associated with lower levels of school engagement, and more emotional difficulties in younger children, and a greater likelihood of problems in school and less monitoring by parents for older kids. The project was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. parents behind bars image 1

Communications Strategies and Tactics

Child Trends developed and executed a concerted, wide-reaching outreach effort targeted to key audiences such as practitioners, policymakers, advocacy and membership organizations, thought leaders, and the media. Audiences such as the Prison & Family Justice Project, the National Institute of Corrections, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the Forum for Youth Investment—just to name a few—were asked to use the information in the report for targeting interventions and policies meant to support children whose parents have been incarcerated.

Child Trends designed and distributed a news release, two infographics, two blogs, a special edition of its electronic newsletter, and a toolkit of suggested social media posts for stakeholder organizations to use, related to the report. The communications department identified programs for families of the incarcerated that were willing to serve as secondary media contacts for any reporters looking for direct-service providers. Child Trends gave advanced copies of the report to an exclusive list of reporters from outlets such as the Associated Press, Washington Post, and Seattle Times before the release date. We orchestrated a proactive social media push on launch day and posted the first blog, Children with a Parent in Prison: The Forgotten Casualties. The second blog, What Happens When Moms Go to Prison, ran one day later on the Huffington Post. The special edition Child Trends E-News: Children with Parents in Prison was sent to 23,000 subscribers of Child Trends’ weekly E-News.


parents behind bars image 2

Media coverage – After three months, there had been more than 600 media mentions of the report. Child Trends recorded considerable regional, international, and broadcast coverage of the report, with placements in agenda-setting national outlets such as The Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, National Journal, and The Atlantic. David Murphey, Child Trends senior scientist and the co-author of the report, also appeared on a number of radio programs to talk about the report findings.

Social media – In addition to traditional media coverage, there have been more than 200 tweets about the report resulting in more than 3 million impressions. To add to the reach of supportive stakeholders, Child Trends engaged the public through strategic posts on its own digital media channels, reaching an additional audience of more than 46,000 organizations and individuals.

Advocacy – The report attracted the attention of top-tier criminal justice reform organizations. Steve Custer, communications director at the American Jails Association and editor of its magazine, American Jails, invited co-author David Murphey to submit an article in an upcoming issue. In addition, CEO and President of Father and Families Coalition of American James Rodriguez invited Child Trends to speak at the organization’s conference in February 2016.

Released October 27, 2015