Date of Award

2001

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)

Degree Program

Global Leadership - with a specialization in Educational Leadership

Department

College of Education

First Advisor

Carole Warshaw

Second Advisor

William Leary

Third Advisor

John Sullivan

Abstract

The purpose of this phenomenological study was to assess, through naturalistic inquiry, the differences between and relationships among coping strategies of parents of murdered or abducted, long-term missing children, where the offender was non-familial. Multiple data sources were used to examine two areas: The perceptive differences of coping among parents of murdered children in contrast to parents of abducted, long-term missing children, where the offender was non-familial; and the ways in which coping strategies of parents of murdered children differ from the coping strategies of parents of abducted, long-term missing children, where the offender was non-familial.

This phenomenological study used a non-random, purposeful sample selected from contacts established through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children/Florida Branch (NCMEC/FL). The sample included four participants where the child was the victim of a non-familial homicide and four participants where the child was the victim of a non-familial abduction and has not been recovered. An interview and observational approach, incorporating audio-recorded interviews of unstructured, in-depth and open-ended questions of each participant in a one-on-one setting, was utilized. Participant feedback, the verification of the researcher's interpretations and conclusions were conducted.

A single dominant theme emerged when analyzing the similarities and differences among the groups: The duration of expected coping dependent upon the likelihood of resolution. Parents of abducted, long-term missing children associated effective coping strategies as those devised to sustain the parental survivor through long-term circumstances. In contrast, parents of murdered children, who had acquired resolution, responded with coping mechanisms to deal directly with the loss.

The analysis identified that both groups suffered comparable bereavement symptoms, and utilized similar coping strategies, during times of ambiguous loss. The two groups mirrored each other emotionally until the time that parents of murdered children attained the first stage of resolution: clarification of the ambiguous loss through outcome determination. At this point, parents of murdered children were then able to embark on the different emotional and physiological track toward the identifiable stages of resolution.

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