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Title:Exploring the lived experiences of low-income single Batswana mothers: A narrative inquiry
Author(s):Malinga, Tumani
Director of Research:Ostler, Teresa A.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Zhan, Min
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Tabb, Karen; Zerai, Assata
Department / Program:School of Social Work
Discipline:Social Work
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Adverse childhood experiences
Low-income women
Life course
Abstract:Women, especially in female-headed households in Botswana, are living in poverty, despite the country’s economic progress and decreased poverty levels. Despite the findings from national surveys indicating that poverty is common among female-headed households, that they are exposed to violence, and that their human rights are violated, no studies have explored women’s general circumstances in order to understand and explore their perceptions about their lived experiences. Documenting women’s lived experiences provides an understanding of the events, transitions, and exposures they went through in their lives and how these could have changed their life courses. This dissertation draws on narrative research that investigated and explored the lived experiences of low-income single mothers in Botswana in order to understand the psychosocial pathways that might have exposed them to chains of risks. The study took place in rural Tutume sub-district, Botswana with fifteen low-income, never-married mothers. The mothers were purposively selected to participate in the study. Two survey instruments—The Adverse Child Experience International Questionnaire (ACE-IQ) and Brief COPE—were used to collect descriptive data. The ACE-IQ reports the occurrence of negative events during a participant’s first eighteen years of life. The Brief COPE survey captured coping strategies participants currently utilize in their lives. Narrative inquiry engaged the mothers to chronicle their life stories from childhood to the present day. This allowed them to share events, transitions, interactions, and what they went through in various life stages. The narrative interviews also asked about women’s perceptions of their lived experiences and how they currently deal with challenges and stressors in their lives. The ACE-IQ survey showed the negative events that the women experienced- emotional, sexual, and physical abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and exposure to substance use during their childhoods. Women’s narratives corroborated the survey results and added that the women grew up in impoverished households. Further, participants reported being raised by non-biological parents, which exposed them to unequal treatment and to a lack of stability, as they often had to change houses. Their narratives revealed that they lacked protective relationships in their families of origin, making them vulnerable to risk. Owing to poverty and limited social support, the women reported engaging in early sexual relations with older men, exposing them to increased risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Consequently, they were more prone to risks, vulnerabilities, and currently continue to face a constellation of problems in their life course. With such a history, their adulthood has been characterized by living in poverty, intimate partner violence, poor health, feelings of neglect, and not being appreciated by their partners because they are not married. Retrospectively looking back at their childhood, women were of the view that the adversities they experienced were influenced by a lack of protective relationships, making them vulnerable to risk; often, they felt they were victims within their families. In addition, they blamed themselves for engaging in risky behaviors that have continued to expose them to lifetime of risks and vulnerability. Related to this, the Brief COPE survey indicated that the mothers engage in adaptive and dysfunctional coping strategies. Having functional strategies, moreover, did not mean the absence of dysfunctional strategies; rather, the choice of coping mechanism was based on circumstance at each particular time. Utilizing a life course perspective and narrative inquiry to examine the lived experiences of the low-income single mothers sheds light on how the women’s lives unfolded and how those events and transitions affected their life course trajectories. For example, unplanned pregnancies were major influences that shaped their life course and contributed to cumulative disadvantages over their life courses. Having transitioned into motherhood earlier than expected, while also jobless and without skills, they were problem prone and psychologically vulnerable. Further, this transition restricted their options for growth, amplified environmental adversity, strained coping and social support structures, and forced mothers to enter into often worse situations. Their traumatic past affected developmental outcomes, while their quality of life was affected and led to delinquent behaviors in adulthood. Findings from this study illustrate that a lack of social support to mitigate this developmental challenge offsets other positive developments and alters lives, subsequently diverting prospects of personal and social development. Interventions seem necessary to buffer the negative experiences that low-income single mothers undergo in childhood, given that this study found that participants’ life courses generally lacked protective relationships that might have enhanced trajectories that are more positive. These findings have social work practice and policy implications. At the policy level, there is a need to have more inclusive policies of assistance that make it easy for low-income single mothers to access and benefit from. Moreover, given that the findings indicate intergenerational poverty, this argues that programs and services should be targeted at the prevention of adverse childhood experiences in families exposed to risk that reproduce poverty. Children in such families must be provided with both emotional and financial support to ensure that they stay in school especially. There is also a need for a women’s center where low-income single mothers (and all women) can get comprehensive support to address their basic, social, economic, and health needs. Further, women must be equipped with the skills that enable them to secure better jobs so as to provide for their families without depending on male partners. Social work practitioners should focus on trauma-informed practice to get the full context of women’s challenges, to educate women on their human rights, laws, programs and services that can be beneficial for them, and to help improve their livelihoods in general. Lastly, practitioners should conduct comprehensive community needs assessment so they are knowledgeable of their community’s needs, challenges, and how best to help them. Such efforts would help to identify at-risk families and children, and to provide them with the needed support, to avoid the life course of continuing to live in a series of crises that further exposes another generation of children to adverse childhood experiences.
Issue Date:2018-04-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2018 TUMANI MALINGA
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-09-04
Date Deposited:2018-05

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