Abstract: Navigating Two Worlds: Strengths and Challenges of Integrating Parenting and Recovery Identities (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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656P Navigating Two Worlds: Strengths and Challenges of Integrating Parenting and Recovery Identities

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Nancy Jo Kepple, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Jennifer Price Wolf, PhD, Assistant Professor, California State University, Sacramento, Sacramento, CA
Suzanne Brown, PhD, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Background and Purpose: Preventing relapse among parents in recovery from substance-related problems can enhance safety and stability for their children. Yet, substance-related treatment goals often require parents to prioritize their individual needs while not explicitly helping them to meet the competing needs of their children. Conversely, child welfare services will often prioritize child safety through a focus on short-term abstinence over long-term recovery. The purpose of this presentation is to propose a middle-range theory of individuals’ experiences of navigating recovery and parenting identities in both early recovery and across ongoing stages of recovery.

Methods: Using a constructivist grounded theory approach, 25 in-depth, two-hour interviews were conducted with parents (N = 25 composed of 15 mothers, 10 fathers) in early to on-going stages of recovery from a substance use disorder. Time in sustained recovery ranged from 3 months to 15 years. Using theoretical sampling to identify a diverse sample of individuals who had and had not actively engaged treatment services, participants were recruited through poster fliers, Craigslist advertisements, recovery community leaders, and SUD treatment services. Interviews elicited parents’ experiences of recovery, parenting, and the interaction between recovery and parenting across intra- and interpersonal contexts. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and focused codes were developed concurrently with data collection. This presentation highlights a central focused code from these interviews and associated analytic categories that arose through constant comparison within and across interviews.

Findings: During data collection, a focused code emerged around how parents define and navigate their parenting & recovery identities. Mothers and fathers emphasized the importance of supporting and acknowledging the intersections between their parent and recovery identities. Parents predominantly described these identities as intertwined. For example, parents reported parent-centric supports feeling incomplete, particularly when they feared sharing their experiences of being in recovery. Conversely, recovery-centric supports were viewed as more meaningful when they acknowledged the full context of respondents’ lives, which included caring for children. Integration often increased in importance as recovery was sustained over time. Parents further described the strengths and challenges of navigating these integrated identities within integrated and unintegrated interpersonal spaces, such as children’s schools and mutual aid support groups. Identifying recovery spaces and social supports that allowed them to view both as interdependent was critical to their individual and family’s well-being. Particularly, parents with children under the ages of 13 years reported mixed experiences finding recovery-oriented spaces that acknowledged their complex needs of maintaining recovery while caring for young children.

Conclusion and Implications: These parents’ experiences provide critical information about ways social workers can shape and facilitate recovery supports that maintain safe and stable environments for families. Most importantly, this theoretical framework can inform how to tailor recovery-oriented interventions to address the integrated recovery and parenting needs of parents across early to ongoing stages of recovery. Recommendations for policy, practice, and research will be shared related to how social workers can develop theory- and data-driven interventions to better support parents within the context of recovery from substance-related problems.