Abstract: Experiences of young adolescents residing in family violence shelters: A qualitative study using life story methods (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12871 Experiences of young adolescents residing in family violence shelters: A qualitative study using life story methods

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 5:30 PM
Pacific Concourse L (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Amy Chanmugam, MSSW , University of Texas at Austin, Doctoral Candidate, Austin, TX
Purpose: Estimates indicate that seven million American children (ages 0-17) live in households with severe intimate partner violence (IPV) (McDonald et al, 2006). Forty to 60 percent exhibit pathology in several domains, including post-traumatic stress symptoms, behavioral and emotional problems (Wolfe et al, 2003). Prospective studies suggest intergenerational transmission of IPV, with coercive patterns appearing in early adolescent dating (Ehrensaft, 2003; White & Smith, 2001). Research on this population is under-developed and especially scarce for adolescents. This gap is problematic because adolescents have imminent risks: recreating IPV in their own relationships, and injury due to increasing physical intervention in parents' battering incidents (Christian et al, 1997). They may also be at higher risk for internalizing disorders than younger IPV-exposed children (Sternberg et al, 2006). This study sought to gain a comprehensive picture of life experiences and perceptions of young IPV-exposed adolescents (ages 12-14) with the goal of identifying protective factors and potential intervention targets and settings.

Methods: Semi-structured life story interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of 14 youth/mother dyads residing in family violence shelters, with 28 individual interviews completed. Youth participants included 6 boys and 8 girls. More than half of the sample was African American, Latino, American Indian, or multiracial. Each mother's interview preceded the youth's and provided contextual information about the family. Youth interviews focused on family, peers, and school over time. Each youth created a timeline depicting important life experiences and relationships. Every interview was audiotaped, transcribed verbatim, and coded independently by two coders using holistic-content methods (Lieblich et al, 1998). Methods entailed a consensus process to resolve coding differences, and an iterative process for identification of patterns, theme development and confirmation (Hill et al, 2005; Miles & Huberman, 1994).

Results: Analysis yielded eight themes: Frequent moves -- residential, school, and family structure changes (n = 14, 100%); Interconnected family boundaries (n = 11, 79%); Loss and Fear (n = 8, 57%); Evolution and changes in youth's thinking/communication about family issues (n = 5, 36%); Complex feelings about adult males (4, 29%); Parental crack addiction prominent throughout youth's life story (4, 29%); Child abuse central to youth's story (3, 21%); and Extreme family circumstances normalized by youth (n = 2, 14%). Several themes include sub-categories (e.g. “Interconnected family boundaries” includes: youth in a caregiver role, pervasive feelings of concern about mother, and close family relationships/family is primary source of support). The presentation uses quotes and timeline images to vividly portray youth experiences and perspectives.

Implications: Findings suggest factors that future research should examine as possible moderators of the effects of IPV exposure on psychological adjustment, such as residential stability, family cohesion, and parental substance abuse. Findings have implications for intervention research and practice. For example, more than half of the youth participants described multiple distressing loss experiences (e.g. abruptly ended friendships, forced pet abandonment, valued possessions broken by parents). As interventions for this population are developed and evaluated, findings suggest that incorporating elements of bereavement interventions may enhance trauma-informed practice with youth in shelters.