Abstract: The Vulnerabilities and Strengths of Parents within the Context of Community Violence: Results of a Systematic Literature Review (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

The Vulnerabilities and Strengths of Parents within the Context of Community Violence: Results of a Systematic Literature Review

Friday, January 18, 2019: 2:15 PM
Union Square 25 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Cindy Sousa, PhD, MSW, MPH, Assistant Professor, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
Manahil Siddiqi, Student, University of Washington
Sarah Slates, MSW, Doctoral student, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA
Background and Purpose: One in three children in United States urban neighborhoods have been the direct victims of community violence, including threats, robbery, attacks, and murders. Countless more children witness this violence. Furthermore, recently we’ve seen more attention paid to the pervasive physical and mental health effects of police and state-sponsored violence against communities, especially African American communities. The mental health ramifications of community, neighborhood, and police violence are particularly acute for children. At the same time, young people in these contexts tend to emerge remarkably well. This demonstrated resilience aligns with vast scholarship establishing how children’s well-being depends on parents nurturing, teaching, responding to, and monitoring their children. Despite this long-standing perspective on the relationship between parental resilience and child resilience, there is an urgent need within social work research and practice to merge standing theories of child development with more critical investigations about the realities and social justice implications of parenting within community violence. In this context, our theories and the resulting empirical work on parenting needs to take on added dimensions. These must account for the trauma and oppression that both children and parents face within neighborhoods that endure ongoing community violence, poverty, and targeting by police with increased surveillance, violence, and incarceration.

Methods: To address the need for more integration about the lived realities and strategies of parents within community violence, authors completed a systematic literature review. The aim was to bring together empirical literature about how community violence influences parenting and how parents attempt, nonetheless, to care for and protect their young people. Using pre-determined inclusion criteria, authors conducted extensive searches within multiple databases. A test of reliability between reviewers resulted in a 90% agreement rate. With the 85 articles that met the inclusion criteria, authors organized and coded findings and together determined common themes. These themes were used to help build a model connecting traditional theories about parenting to the actual experiences and efforts of parents documented within the literature.

Results: Results of our analysis of this wide body of literature demonstrate how community violence creates substantial suffering for parents as it undermines parents’ mental health, child-rearing practices, sense of competence, and social connectedness. Parents must deal with the consequences of their own trauma exposure while also facing how the violence jeopardizes their parental role just when it is most essential. Our findings also point to the multiple ways that parents struggle to realize the complex, and often contradictory, tasks of parenting against a backdrop of considerable violence. We found evidence of significant coping strategies used by parents, including amplified parenting practices; gathering strength from culture, faith, and community; activism and community organizing; and nurturing communication and closeness with their children.

Conclusions and Implications: Our study points to the complex ways that parents plan for the physical and psychological safety of themselves, their children, and their communities. Findings point to the need for expanded theoretical frameworks and prevention practices that reflect both the suffering and the resilience of parents who grapple with community violence.