Social support in the context of familial arrest
The current phenomenological study sought to understand how economically disadvantaged Black mothers of young children in New Orleans describe their experiences of social support during and after their families’ interactions with the criminal justice system. Social support has been found to buffer the impacts of traumatic experiences for Black women, however no research has specifically examined how Black mothers experience social support in the wake of familial arrest. Working from an intersectional feminist framework that highlights the marginalization of Black women’s experiences due to the intersection of sexist and racist discrimination, the current study used a phenomenological lens to allow participants’ unique experiences and perspectives guide the analysis. Interviews with seventeen Black mothers were qualitatively coded in order to understand the “universal essence” of the phenomenon from the mothers’ perspectives. Results suggested that mothers experience both internal and external sources of support, however these sources are differentially impacted by six major factors: (1) incarceration as a physical and emotional barrier, (2) trust and betrayal, (3) dissonance, (4) physical and mental health characteristics, (5) experiences of solidarity, and (6) utilization of supplemental supports. These findings emphasize the importance of discrediting stereotypes about Black women not needing outside support (Strong Black Woman trope), elevating marginalized voices, and reducing stigma in order to inform future policy and clinical directions.