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Assessing Family Memory With Young At-Risk Parents: Representation and Narration of a Painful Family Story

Caroline Baret, Sophie Gilbert

Research Framework: « Street youth », or « at-risk youth », become parents under precarious situations: substance abuse and addiction, unstable living conditions (housing instability and low income), and lack of social and family support (Baret and Gilbert, 2015, Haley et al., 2006 Poirier et al., 1999).
Objectives : Our research aims to understand how young at-risk parents develop their family memories given their often painful histories including child abuse, child abandonment and conflictual family relationships).
Methodology : We conducted semi-structured interviews with 12 young parents who were recruited in Montreal through a community organization that helps homeless and at-risk youth (Dans la rue). We analysed the transcripts using a two-level inductive method: descriptive and interpretative (Gilbert, 2009, Paillé and Mucchielli, 2008, 2012).
Results : This qualitative analysis guided us toward a typology of « memory representation of the family ». Each representation (enigmatic, defective and smokescreen) corresponds to three distinct psycological mechanisms: memorial scotomization, fixation and fabulation.
Conclusions : Rather than considering family memory as an awareness and negotiation of the past (Muxel, 1996), our participant narrations refer to a difficult consciousness of their past. Different processes are involved: 1) erasing (scotomization) ; 2) reminiscence (fixation) ; 3) idealization (fabulation).
Contribution : Without underestimating current distress and material difficulties of these young parents, our research reveals the relevance of assessing family and social history within psychosocial services. The ideal objective is to provide support for reflective memory work (Muxel, 1996) and mentalization (Tychey, 2001; Berthelot et al., 2013) through therapeutic relationships that are marked by trust.