Intergenerational effects of parental substance-related convictions and adult drug treatment court participation on children's school performance

Am J Orthopsychiatry. 2015 Sep;85(5):452-68. doi: 10.1037/ort0000087.


This study examined the intergenerational effects of parental conviction of a substance-related charge on children's academic performance and, conditional on a conviction, whether completion of an adult drug treatment court (DTC) program was associated with improved school performance. State administrative data from North Carolina courts, birth records, and school records were linked for 2005-2012. Math and reading end-of-grade test scores and absenteeism were examined for 5 groups of children, those with parents who: were not convicted on any criminal charge, were convicted on a substance-related charge and not referred by a court to a DTC, were referred to a DTC but did not enroll, enrolled in a DTC but did not complete, and completed a DTC program. Accounting for demographic and socioeconomic factors, the school performance of children whose parents were convicted of a substance-related offense was worse than that of children whose parents were not convicted on any charge. These differences were statistically significant but substantially reduced after controlling for socioeconomic characteristics; for example, mother's educational attainment. We found no evidence that parent participation in an adult DTC program led to improved school performance of their children. While the children of convicted parents fared worse on average, much--but not all--of this difference was attributed to socioeconomic factors, with the result that parental conviction remained a risk factor for poorer school performance. Even though adult DTCs have been shown to have other benefits, we could detect no intergenerational benefit in improved school performance of their children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Absenteeism
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Criminals*
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intergenerational Relations*
  • Male
  • Mandatory Programs*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders