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Formerly Incarcerated African American Women: Reclaiming Parenting and Re-Forming Maternal Identities

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posted on 29.10.2016, 00:00 authored by Giesela Grumbach
The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore the experiences of formerly incarcerated African American women as they resume parenting post release from prison and re-form their maternal identity. Few studies have focused specifically on African American women and their resumption of the parenting post incarceration. This study’s findings suggest that parenting is fluid, does not arrest and is therefore not re-formed as originally thought. Instead, the 12 women in this maintained their maternal identity and attempted to parent from prison, remain involved in their children’s lives and continued contact either because of relational ties with the child’s caregiver or through programmatic support. The study’s findings were similar to the literature on African American women and incarceration as the participants in this study experience past abuse (either sexual or physical) which remained unresolved, had low educational attainment, and several had histories of substance abuse. The participants in this study also engaged in protective parenting despite their drug use, maintained positive relationships with their child(ren)'s kin caregiver, and transitioned back to parenting with the support of the family caregiver and with programmatic support from agencies serving women involved in the criminal legal system. This study has several implications for social work practice and policies governing how formerly incarcerated mothers are provided services. First, there is an enduring need to strengthen and empower families within African American communities. Because of mass incarceration, social workers and criminologists need to develop creative ways to provide comprehensive gender relevant services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated mothers. African American mothers, as shown in this study, need programs to help them deal effectively with unresolved issues of past abuse, prior substance use/abuse issues and to help support mother’s reconnection with their children.



O'Brien, Patricia


Social Work

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

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Committee Member

McKay-Jackson, Cassandra Gaston, Gina Gleeson, James Glass, Lorri

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