Looking ahead rather than behind: exploring the future perspectives and resilience of adolescents who have experience of parental imprisonment

Assignment type: Thesis
Author: Catherine Goodchild
Submitted: June 2018


Adolescence is a period of development when young people begin to prepare for transition from childhood into adulthood creating an increased focus on future potential and aspirations. A systematic review of the international literature was conducted, exploring the relationship between adolescent outcomes and two key areas of future perception studies, future orientation and possible selves. 18 articles were identified and subsequently organised by grouping in relation to school, home and personal factors. Research was conducted cross-culturally and often focussed on at-risk populations related to ethnicity, however only two studies extended to the UK population. A number of quantitative studies suggest a relationship exists between adolescent future orientation and a variety of positive outcomes, as well as acting as a protective factor against negative outcomes, e.g. risk-taking behaviours. Participants’ perspectives were rarely explored through qualitative research, with only two papers included. Limitations include methodological design, leading to calls for more robust research in this area.

The empirical paper (Chapter 2) adopted a qualitative design and explored the future perceptions of children of imprisoned parents. This population have been referred to as ‘silent victims’ in the literature and are suggested to be at risk of multiple negative outcomes, including disruption to relationships, stigmatisation and increased risk of engaging in socially undesirable behaviours. The current study gathered the future perspectives of children of imprisoned parents, as well as their resilience factors including sources of strength and support from their past and present experiences. Five participants, aged 9-12 years were interviewed using semi-structured interviews and a ‘life path’ drawing activity. Deductive thematic analysis identified six overall themes: experience of having a parent in prison, social support, individual coping strategies, beliefs about the future, strategies to reach future goals and potential barriers to reaching future goals. Implications for practice were discussed in light of the heterogeneous nature of the findings and concluded that professionals should consider a bespoke approach to intervention, ensuring children are kept at the forefront of decision-making. Calls for future research included further qualitative studies to explore how children of imprisoned parents construct their own identities, which could be triangulated with data such as the voice of siblings and wider family members.

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