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The Parentified Child

Young carers are children under the age of 18 who provide care to a family member. Concern has been raised within the welfare services that these children are involved in levels and types of care that are developmentally inappropriate and that jeopardize their health and development. Despite a vast literature on the psychological impacts of caregiving upon adult carers, there has been little investigation into the impacts upon children. This review focuses on one main area of research that has examined children as caregivers; research on the ‘parentified child’. This literature derives from the traditions of systemic theory and is primarily concerned with establishing how caregiving as a child impacts upon adult functioning. Studies suggest that identity development and personality, interpersonal relationships and relationships with an individual’s own children could be affected. How the literature conceptualizes caring and the psychological theories that underpin the concept of parentification are discussed. The empirical studies are then summarized under four headings; precursors to parentification, impacts upon adult relationships, direct impacts upon the child and circumscribed research. Conceptual and methodological limitations are discussed. These include the lack of a clear definition of parentification, and problems with measurement, sampling and design. Finally, recommendations for improving and developing the parentification literature are presented that draw upon studies of resiliency, adult care giving and attachment.

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Clinical Child Psychology & Psychiatry
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