Military dad and small daughter hugging with flag.
Published on: Nov 9, 2020

Penn State’s 28th Annual National Symposium on Family Issues was recently held focusing on the causes and consequences of parent-child separations. For the first time ever, the event was held virtually, but that didn’t deter experts around the nation from participating and offering their diverse research on the subject.

The symposium, Causes and Consequences of Parent-Child Separations: Pathways to Resilience, was divided into three sessions that covered the topics of parental/familial migration and deportation, parental military deployment, and parental incarceration. Each session featured at least three topic experts.

Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes, professor of economics at the University of California, kicked off the two-day symposium by speaking on how the education system can positively impact students at-risk due to parent-child separations from deportation through the use of “safe-zones,” which refer to any protection or procedure schools have in place to address these situations.

“One purpose of safe-zones is to mitigate the adverse impacts of immigration enforcement, given what we know about the long-term impact separation may have on child development and other outcomes,” Amuedo-Dorantes said.

Other presenters on parental/familial migration and deportation included Jodi Berger Cardoso, associate professor of social work in the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston; Kalina Brabeck, professor in the Counseling, Educational Leadership and School Psychology Department at Rhode Island College; and Joanna Dreby, associate professor of sociology and Latin American, Caribbean and U.S. Latino studies at the University of Albany, State University of New York.

John Fairbank, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and co-director of the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, presented during the second session of the symposium and shared research on the risk factors children in military families face.

“Having a parent with a mental health condition may heighten risk of behavioral and mental health problems for children and adolescents,” Fairbank said. “And this may be particularly true for military families due to some of the unique challenges of military life, which would include deployment.”

Shelley MacDermid Wadsworth, professor of human development and family studies and the director of the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, and Abigal Gewirtz, professor of family social science and director of the Institute of Translational Research in Mental Health at the University of Minnesota, were also featured experts on parental military deployment.

Jennifer Copp, assistant professor in the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, presented new findings on the effects of parental incarceration on family life in the closing session of the event. Copp presented not only different risks for families facing parental incarceration but also characteristics that make families resilient in these situations.

“Parents with a history of incarceration had greater involvement in crime, drug use, and different levels of parental engagement,” Copp said. “Despite these factors, children who were exposed to more positive parenting practices fared better.”

The parental incarceration session also included presenters Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Kristin Turney, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine.

To learn more about previous symposia and the Family Symposium book series, see the Family Symposium Book Series.

The Family Symposium series is funded in part by a grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and sponsored by Penn State’s Social Science Research Institute, Population Research Institute, Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, Child Study Center, as well as the departments of sociology and criminology, human development and family studies, psychology, biobehavioral health, anthropology, and agricultural economics, sociology and education.