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Children impacted when mother winds up in prison26.02.2009 - (idw) Schwedischer Forschungsrat - The Swedish Research Council
A new dissertation studies how a group of children are affected when their mothers are sentenced to prison. Half of the children in the study were suffering emotionally a full year after the separation. Anneli Björkhagen Turesson is a doctoral candidate in social work at Malmö University in Sweden.
"This is primarily due to the fact that the children have faced authorities that lack a child perspective and downplay their need of support and help," says Anneli Björkhagen Turesson, of the Faculty of Health and Society at Malmö University.
Though Anneli Björkhagen Turesson is at the Faculty of Health and Society in Malmö, her dissertation will be formally defended at Gothenburg University, which will grant the degree.
"Children are invisible to the authorities even though they suffer serious consequences when their mothers are sentenced to prison," says Anneli Björkhagen Turesson.
In her dissertation, she is studying children's capacity to recover. Her study shows that five of the children have had to move and that several children were left alone at home without support after the police arrested their mother. In one case an innocent adolescent was placed in jail in connection with his mother's arrest.
But the study also shows that stress and strains are not only bad but in some cases have entailed development and an improved ability to cope with difficulties later in life. Through an analysis of mothers' and children's stories she has identified key processes that have a positive effect on children's ability to bounce back.
"I have seen how important it is that the child feels loved and has a chance to maintain continual contact with the mother during childhood and adolescence. Children who had these needs satisfied have a greater capacity for dealing with stress and difficulty. This shows how important it is that children have this possibility of staying in continual contact with their mother while she serves her time. This is also a right that they have under the Declaration of Children's Rights," says Anneli Björkhagen Turesson.
The majority of the children come from broken families, but most of the fathers are in the picture in some way or another. Two of the girls come from a nuclear family, and there the fathers have looked after the children while the mothers served their sentences. The other children were not looked after by their father while the mother was in prison. None of the mothers has sole custody.
The study also shows that maternal grandparents play an important role in many families. Through their support for the family they have been able to mitigate some of the negative effects that substance abuse and criminality have had on the children. The study also shows that those who have had an economic buffer have coped with the situation better, since the children were able to keep living at home while the mother's was in prison.
The majority of the children have functioned well in school and in their leisure time. One contributory factor may be that most of the mothers have tried to encourage their children to participate in activities that promote good social adaptation.
"They have wanted their children to choose different paths in life than they themselves did," says Anneli Björkhagen Turesson.
Title of dissertation: Mother in Prison - Mothers' and Children's Stories: An Analysis of Young People's Process of Resilience (in Swedish).
External examiner: Professor Thomas Lindstein, Stockholm University
Contact: Annelie Björkhagen Turesson, phone: +46 (0)40-452737 (home), cell phone: +46 (0)731-401540; e-mail: Annelie.Bjorkhagen.Turesson@mah.se
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