Perspectives of young adolescent and mother dyads residing in family violence shelters : a qualitative study using life story methods
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This study provided a comprehensive picture of the lives of young adolescents (ages 12-14) and their mothers residing in emergency family violence shelters. It used qualitative Life Story methods emphasizing a holistic, contextualized, chronological approach to gain deeper insight into experiences as told from the emic perspectives of individuals who have lived them, with research questions addressing relationships, intimate partner violence (IPV), coping, and views of the future. The study was prompted by the prevalence of childhood exposure to adult IPV with 15.5 million American children/adolescents exposed annually, the risks of IPV exposure, and the paucity of first-person perspectives in existing research. Research focusing on adolescents is especially lacking. The study was informed by social cognitive and family systems theories and an ecological/resilience framework. An ethnically diverse, purposive sample of 14 young adolescent-mother dyads (N= 27) was recruited from four Texas shelters. Youth and mothers were interviewed separately using a semi-structured interview guide. They completed standardized measures of IPV exposure level and youth psychological adjustment. Interviews were analyzed using thematic and categorical-content analysis. Four staff interviews at recruitment sites added context. Results revealed high levels of IPV exposure, poverty, parental incarceration, child maltreatment, residential instability, school transitions and maternal health problems. Seven themes were prominent in youths’ life stories, with the most prevalent concerning lifelong frequent moves, highly cohesive family boundaries, and loss and fear. Other themes concerned evolution in youths’ thinking about family issues, complex feelings about adult males, centrality of physical child abuse, and the influence of parental crack cocaine abuse in their lives. Numerous quotes voice participants’ strengths in spite of adversities. Youth typically framed experiences in terms of how they affected daily living, with IPV interwoven with the broader themes. Youth described key relationships, perceptions of fathers, general coping strategies, situational coping with IPV (including safety planning behaviors), perspectives on shelters, potential protective factors, and views of the future. Mothers’ interviews expanded interpretation of youth narratives. Results compare youth-mother perspectives. Implications are discussed for theory, research, and social work practice, including practice in emergency shelters, schools, substance abuse treatment programs, law enforcement and CPS.