The effect of becoming a parent on disengagement from gangs

  • Natalia Lemanska

Student thesis: Phd


The purpose of this study was to shed more light on the process of desistance from crime in the context of disengagement from youth gangs and to do so in relation to a key life-event: parenthood. Gang membership was theorised in the light of a life-course framework and gang disengagement was defined as a renunciation of a gang status and gradually decreasing gang embeddedness. The likelihood of parenthood serving as a trigger of change in gang membership was investigated.The study utilised data from narrative interviews with 15 inner-London parents who all self-reported as former gang members. Interview transcripts were further analysed by means of a hybrid process of inductive and deductive thematic analysis. This examined (1) subjective experiences of parenthood, (2) the effect of parenthood on renegotiation of the gang member identity and (3) whether there were any substantial differences between how fathers and mothers embraced their parenthood experience.With regard to the course of behavioural and identity changes, there was no one, single pattern that would have reflected all parents' journeys out of gangs. There were considerable intra- and inter-gender differences with regard to when the transformation process started, how deep the changes were with respect to core-self and to what extent parents were engaging in reflective, meaning-making processes. Parents also demonstrated different levels of resilience in the face of challenges and varied in how much commitment, and pro-activity they were channeling into the future-oriented endeavours. The experience of being a gang member gradually became an aversive one for most parents and they generally appraised the meaning of conventional life. The volatility of new parenthood as a possible turning point in the life of a young gang member denotes it as a timely occasion when assistance could be provided. Based on parents' accounts, several recommendations were proposed that, if implemented on a wider scale, are likely to increase the chance of parents enacting their parental roles successfully. These included: a single case management approach that is long-term, affords flexibility if circumstances change and, due to the multifaceted character of young people's needs, demands effective partnership between different agencies. Though parenthood was not a universal remedy, becoming a parent served as an important catalyst for self-transformation and gang disengagement for the majority of the interviewed young parents. The overall success appeared to be strongly intertwined with one's level of agency, support from pro-social others and perception of availability of a legitimate identity.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJonathan Shute (Supervisor) & Juanjo Medina (Supervisor)

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