Families in trauma : the experiences and perceptions of the maternal caregivers of children affected by extrafamilial child sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse and its potentially traumatizing consequences, over both the short- and longer term, has been increasingly recognized in the literature as a possible pathway to the development of intra- and interpersonal maladjustment, affecting the mental well-being of those affected. There is a paucity of local research investigating the systemic impact of a child's sexual abuse upon the caregiving and family systems in which the child is integrally embedded. The current research was conducted primarily in response to this, with the intention of illuminating the experiences of caregivers and families managing their child's experience of sexual abuse. More specifically, the research was interested in the experiences and perceptions of caregivers of children who had been sexually abused by an extrafamilial person. The phenomenological approach informed the planning, implementation, analysis and interpretation phases of the research. The sample included six mothers / female caregivers who had discovered their child's sexual abuse no less than three months and no longer than twelve months prior to the research being conducted. Maternal caregivers were the primary source of information regarding their own experiences, as well as spokespersons for the caregiving family unit and its members. Two semistructured interviews were planned for each respondent, the first interview aimed at eliciting their experiences and perceptions, and the second interview aimed primarily at providing debriefing and feedback. In view of the highly sensitive nature of the interview topic, the second interview was structured primarily out of ethical concerns for the respondent's well-being as a consequence of the interviewing. Results of the interviews suggest that these caregivers were faced with a host of complex experiences related to three broad thematic areas, namely: their involvement with the criminal justice system; managing the child's and family's distress; and themes around coping and support. A number of sub-themes were identified within and across these three broad thematic areas, representing a complex interaction between dominant experiences. Caregivers were typically faced with a series of dilemmas and decisions in their interactions with their child, family, and the criminal justice system. Based upon the findings, a number of suggestions have been made in terms of policy and protocol development for intervening with such families and their children.
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