Shame? Its my middle name! Reclaiming social justice in social work research: -the experience of researching with parents of justice involved children and young people in Northern Ireland.

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Social justice supposedly applies to all citizens’ having access to resources and means to participate in society. Parents of justice-involved children represent some of the most stigmatised, excluded and vilified of ‘hidden populations’, yet the narrative about them references inclusion, collaboration and partnership in helping their child avoid reoffending. The Northern Ireland youth justice system claims restorative principles at its core yet the region remains deeply divided, struggling with both the legacy of political conflict and transitioning to peace. International literature suggests parents of children in contact with youth justice systems experience multiple traumas, losses, shaming rituals and exclusions with their child as they journey through disparate justice systems (Broeking and Peterson-Badali 2010). However little is understood of parents in this region where the additional threat of paramilitary violence is real for many, and further isolates. The exploratory study was unique in seeking to ascertain the experiences and needs of parents from their child’s first involvement with the justice system through to custody in some circumstances, and the impact of processes and event on them personally and their relationships with significant others.
The sample included parents whose children were involved with the justice system. The research used purposive sampling; themes from two focus groups guided the schedule for sixteen semi-structured interviews. Such participants are typically considered ‘hard to reach’ or a ‘hidden’ population and potential vulnerabilities as a consequence meant complex and protracted institutional ethics processes in creating choice and control for parents to realise their authentic participation. Thematic analysis was applied to analyse focus groups and individual interviews.
Findings suggest that ‘complex trauma’ (Knowles 2016) as an over-arching theme best encapsulates the devastating and compounding experiences parents go through with their children before and during contact with the youth justice system. Violence, threat of violence, and harm including self-harm are typical experiences. Multiple losses are endured, and parents become stigmatised and objectified in their spoiled identity (Goffman 1963) as a failed parent. Their natural responses to the traumas they must cope with are typically denied to them. Peer support and collectivism are critical to transforming isolation, self-blame and challenging institutional shaming and exclusionary practices.
The experiences described by parents are far from the rhetoric of social justice, reintegration and restoring espoused in government narratives about the justice system. This study shows that when parents who are peripheral in dominant narratives about their children are genuinely engaged to represent the reality of their lived experience, this can provide a powerful challenge to faulty representations and provoke review of established practices.
Furthermore, if social justice is truly a research activity then institutional ethics processes may require a social work research ‘activism’ in questioning research ethics orthodoxy or ‘creep’ (Haggerty 2004) if ‘hard to reach/hidden populations’ and often maligned groups, are to be provided full voice and social justice research avoid being complicit in their othering.


Conference“Shame? It’s my middle name!” Reclaiming social justice in social work research:-the experience of parenting a child in the Northern Ireland youth justice system.
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Shame? Its my middle name! Reclaiming social justice in social work research: -the experience of researching with parents of justice involved children and young people in Northern Ireland.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this