Coping with imprisonment on the outside : the perspectives of the children and their mothers
This thesis is concerned primarily with the children's perception of the father's imprisonment and how they cope with this experience. In particular, the study has focused on the meaning children give to the father's imprisonment, the strategies they adopt to cope with the change to his moral status, and on the possible association between this type of separation and children's moral development and self-esteem. The mother's perception of the event, and the nature of the relationship between family members have also been investigated to determine the extent to which these factors influence the development of the children's strategies, and their adjustment to the father's absence. Twenty-three children, 13 boys and 10 girls between 8 and 15 years of age, together with their mothers from 19 households were interviewed twice, one year apart, in the family home. The data have been analysed by using the constant comparative method, whereby the recordings of the interviews, informal observations and diary notes have been transcribed and coded according to a series of general themes and categories. Characteristic illustrations from the data are used to facilitate the understanding of concepts and themes presented. Results indicate that children attempt to cope with the change to the father's moral status by developing mechanisms that dissociate the notion of culpability from his action, without denying the wrongfulness of the act itself, thereby maintaining the father's moral integrity, and by extension, their own self-esteem. The results also reveal that children's moral reasoning is a significant factor in the maintenance of self-esteem. In this process, developmental stage, gender, the mother's perception of the event, and the quality of the father/child relationship are important mediating factors. Also suggested is that the experience of moral reasoning about the father's punishment has an influence on children's moral reasoning in general. Finally, a broad framework has been proposed for investigating children's experience of the imprisonment process. This includes the phases of imprisonment, within which are located a series of tasks that children are confronted.