The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to “learn and find out the truth”. Ambiguous Loss Theory states that uncertainty regarding the absence of the main caregiver may be traumatizing for the child as it hinders coping. However, a sizable portion of caregivers in Hong Kong (41.67%) did not disclose the status and/or reasons of absence of parent(s) due to incarceration to the inmates’ children. Past research has shown that parents’ or caregivers’ self-stigma would lead to concealment of negative experience, whereas self-compassion, a nonjudgmental understanding of one’s failures, could facilitate open disclosure of the information about parental incarceration. The current study examined the differences between self-stigma and self-compassion as predictors of both disclosure behaviors and tendency regarding incarceration of the parent(s) to the children, as well as disclosure behaviors as a continuous or dichotomous variable to capture the multifaceted nature of information regarding incarceration.
The study adopted a cross-sectional, correlational research design. Seventy-one ex-offender parents and caregivers (Mage = 44.95, SDage = 13.62) of children with an incarcerated parent were recruited through community organizations. Participants were required to complete a battery of self-administered questionnaires including: (i) Self-Stigma Scale Short Form evaluating cognitive, affective, and behavioral self-stigma (Cronbach’s α = .93); (ii) Self-Compassion Scale Short Form measuring different components of self-compassion (α = .74) such as self-kindness and common humanity; (iii) agreement with reasons for both voluntary (α = .88) and involuntary disclosure (α = .53) of parental incarceration to inmates’ children; and (iii) 7-item self-constructed scale measuring the extent of actual information disclosed to children (α = .92).
Linear regression models were run to examine the impact of demographic variables and agreement with reasons of voluntary and involuntary disclosure on disclosure extent. Child age positively predicted disclosure extent, B =.34, SE =.09, p <.001. Agreement with reasons of both voluntary disclosure, B =.48, SE =.10, p <.001, and involuntary disclosure, B =.33, SE =.16, p =.04, positively predicted disclosure extent. Self-stigma among participants negatively predicted self-compassion, B = -.49, SE =.12, p<.001, and self-compassion positively predicted agreement with voluntary disclosure, B =.12, SE =.05, p =.02. A simple mediation analysis was performed using PROCESS. The indirect effect of self-stigma on voluntary disclosure through self-compassion was significant, B =-.06, SE =.03, 95% CI[-.13, -.02], p =.04.
Conclusions and Implications
The study contributes to a deeper understanding of parent-child communication and information management in families with an incarcerated parent. It also highlights the role of self-stigma in relation to the concealment and disclosure of parental incarceration from and to children. Its results have practical implications as social workers may incorporate the cultivation of self-compassion, which includes self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness in their work with families with an incarcerated parent. Finally, the study also elucidates the non-dichotomous nature of information management (i.e., diversity in the aspects of information to be revealed).