Young Black men experience the disproportionate burden of violence-related death and injury, largely due to firearms. Moreover, the vast majority of these firearm incidents result in nonfatal injuries, and the responsibility to support survivors often falls on Black women caregivers. However, the literature centering the experiences of these caregivers is sparse. This paper addresses this gap by focusing on the experiences of vicarious trauma for this population and highlighting ways they want to be supported.
This study utilized qualitative data from two focus groups conducted with caregivers—both of which contained four participants (total N=8). Focus groups participants consisted of caregivers (e.g., parent, spouse, romantic partner) of Black men who were violently injured within the previous 12 months. Our study received Institutional Review Board approval from the University of Maryland to conduct this research and abided by internal ethical guidelines. Each member of the research team completed initial coding of the focus group transcripts, in which they developed preliminary codes. These codes were then refined through iterative analysis and ranged in complexity and length, with specific attention being paid to the possible connections between codes. Formal definitions, representative quotes, and degree of saliency were determined before the final coding process. This allowed the codebook to be iteratively amended to mirror the research team’s changing conceptualizations of themes. Discrepancies in the codes and understanding of the data were reviewed until a consensus was reached. Codes that were not unanimously agreed upon by the research team were not used. After establishing areas of thematic interest, the research team developed a comprehensive organization and description of the findings which is reflective of the participant's experiences. The results include only those themes that were prominent in the qualitative data across the majority of participants, with data saturation being reached for these themes, as indicated by no additional second-level categories between the two focus groups.
The findings suggest five novel themes that capture the experience of Black women caregivers: 1) vicarious trauma, 2) empathetic chasm, 3) keeping pain inside 4) the need for group support 5) psycho education regarding the physical and mental needs of gunshot survivors. The experiences from participants illuminate the challenges of caring for male gunshot survivors and their need for support from hospital and community based social workers.
Conclusions and Implications:
Findings convey that social workers can play a key role in supporting caregivers caring for gunshot survivors. Hospital-based social workers should provide psychosocial education to caregivers as to make them aware of the traumatic stressors that they and their injured loved one may experience. Additionally, hospital based social workers work should towards providing accessible spaces where caregivers can speak with each other to offer support and normalize experiences. Social workers need to also collaborate with caregivers on follow-up care and communication after survivors of violent injury have been discharged. The findings conferred in this study highlight the challenges and needed support of poor Black women caregivers who are often overlooked and marginalized.