The Experiences of Parents of Children who have Engaged in Harmful Sexual Behaviour: an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis
Background and Aims: The importance of the involvement of parents in treatment approaches for Children and Young People (CYP) who have engaged in Harmful Sexual Behaviour (HSB) has been consistently highlighted within the literature. Given that HSB arises in a family context, parents are considered key agents for change where CYP remain in their care. Professionals may work with them as a means of improving the CYP’s therapeutic outcomes. Despite this, little is known about their personal lived experiences and representations of meaning, which remain largely unexplored. The current study aimed to address this gap and gain a rich understanding of the experiences of parents, from their own perspective. Methodology: Semi-structured interviews were used with six biological parents who were recruited via purposive sampling from a specialist service working with CYP who have engaged in HSB and their families. During interviews, four broad areas of interest were explored: the personal psychological impact of their child engaging in HSB; the impact on the parent-child relationship; wider familial and community responses; and parental coping. Interviews were audio-recorded and their verbatim transcripts analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Findings and Conclusions: The analysis produced four main themes; ‘A devastated and overwhelmed life’; ‘Threatened and trying to feel safer’; ‘A challenged relationship with son’; and ‘Space for hope in the face of hopelessness?’. It was highlighted that parents’ experiences and meaning-making appeared intimately woven with a complex web of powerful relational and socially constructed factors. The research outcomes provide valuable insights for professionals working with young people who have engaged in HSB and their families. In learning more about what it is like to be the parent of a CYP who has engaged in HSB, it is hoped that professionals will have a richer framework from which to provide support to both the parent and to their child. Implications for clinical practice, the strengths and limitations of the methodology and directions for future research are discussed.