Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16814 Invisible Victims of Parental Incarceration: Using Concept Mapping Technology to Include the Voices of Youth In Program Planning

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 11:15 AM
Constitution C (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Toni K. Johnson, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Taylor Haun, BSW Student, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Brian Sultana, BSW Student, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Purpose: The plight of children of prisoners has only recently moved to the national spotlight and much remains to be understood about the quality of their lives and their health and mental health needs (Adalist-Estrin, 2006; Bernstein, 2005). Much of the available evidence suggests that children of prisoners suffer an array of adverse problems and a continuum of interventions is suggested in the literature, with a current emphasis on mentoring programs (Hairston, 2007; Herrera, et. al., 2007). Little is said about how service providers choose interventions offered to adolescent clients affected by parental incarceration and few studies could be located where researchers or service providers sought opinions from these youth with the intention of influencing social service programming. This study describes the findings of a pilot study where adolescent children of prisoners were asked the following questions: 1). What services do adolescent youth affected by parental incarceration most need and 2). How would youth rank the identified services on a scale of importance?

Method: Concept mapping, a mixed method participatory action evaluation approach, was used to investigate the research questions. Fourteen participants recruited from a large urban city in the Midwest included 9 females and 5 males ranging from 13 to 18 years of age. The group was ethnically and racially diverse with 10 of the teens having a father in prison, 2 with a mother in prison, and 2 with both mother and father in prison. All were living with a parent or grandparent. Participants identified 47 distinct services and sorted the services into conceptual groups. The teens were then asked to rate each service on a scale of importance from 1(not at all important) to 5 (extremely important). Multidimensional scaling analysis (MDS) was used to analyze the sort data and hierarchical cluster analysis was conducted to group the services into clusters that reflected similar concepts or themes (Kane & Trochim, 2007).

Results: Analyses revealed six clusters with the 3 highest rated clusters focused on meeting the basic needs of youth and their families (avg. rating 4.18), specific staff characteristics (avg. rating 4.15), and the provision of counseling related services (avg. rating 3.87). Services that strengthen the family system were a closed fourth (avg. rating, 3.82), followed by services focused on individual education and development (avg. rating 3.71) and other kinds of support such as mentoring (avg. rating 3.69).

Conclusions and Implications: The findings revealed perceptions of unmet physical, emotional, psychological and social needs divided into six thematic clusters with a high level of consistency between the perceptions of young women and young men. The findings suggest that a single service focus such as mentoring or tutoring may fail to meet the multiple and varied needs that these youth identified especially those related to basic care such as food, stable housing, and clothing. This pilot study provides information, directly from youth, worthy of consideration by social service providers.