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Keywords:

  • incarcerated parents;
  • children of incarcerated parents;
  • caregivers;
  • parenting classes;
  • prison visitation;
  • Messages Project

In the current study, children’s reactions to video messages from their incarcerated parents were evaluated. Previous research has yielded mixed results when it examined the impact of contact between incarcerated parents and their children; one reason for these mixed results may be a lack of attention to the quality of contact. This is the first study to examine the actual content and quality of a remote form of contact in this population. Participants included 186 incarcerated parents (54% mothers) who participated in a filming with The Messages Project and 61 caregivers of their children. Parental mood prior to filming the message and children’s mood after viewing the message were assessed using the Positive and Negative Affect Scale. After coding the content of 172 videos, the data from the 61 videos with caregiver responses were used in subsequent path analyses. Analyses indicated that when parents were in more negative moods prior to filming their message, they displayed more negative emotions in the video messages ( = .210), and their children were in more negative moods after viewing the message ( = .288). Considering that displays of negative emotion can directly affect how children respond to contact, it seems important for parents to learn to regulate these emotional displays to improve the quality of their contact with their children.