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resilience, single mothers, poverty, feminist research, abuse, social assistance


This paper explores theoretical and conceptual developments in our understanding of resilience as these apply to single mother-led families. Rather than the earlier and simpler notion that resilience implied 'bouncing back' we suggest, consistent with work by other resilience scholars, that the varied demonstrations of resilience are a ‘changing of the game’. By this we mean that resilience involves the creation of new outcomes, or, new ways of being through constant adaptation. Further, we argue this transformation to resilient ways of being occurs across all categories of resilience. This is a significant contribution of this work as we submit that even for those single mothers who appear to be just coping, their behaviours manifest significant and strategic adaptation. This important finding suggests critically new and important ways in which the life experiences and adaptive responses of single mothers should be perceived. The findings and analyses offered here derive from feminist, participatory research with 18 single mothers in focus groups and 20 in semi-structured interviews. Following the requisite ethics review processes and ensuring the confidentiality of all data, we utilized this extensive data set to examine these mothers’ responses to their experiences of adversity. These included the transitions associated with family break up, solo parenting, the stigma associated with being a single mom, loss of financial security (which often necessitated social assistance receipt) and for some, coping with abuse-induced trauma. Based on these findings, we offer policy and practice implications in relation to lone mothers and their families. Among others are suggestions that social workers and other frontline practitioners better recognize and appreciate the achievements that might be demonstrated by ‘just coping’ and policy changes that support families through family break up.


Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences (FHASS)





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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Original Publication Citation

Caragata, L., Waters, B. and Cumming, S. (2021). Changing the Game: The Continuous Adaptation of Resilient Single Mothers. International Journal of Social Work and Human Services Practice, 8(1), 1-10.