Friday, 14 January 2005 - 8:00 AM

This presentation is part of: Secondary Analysis of NSCAW: Effects of Social Supports, Special Caregiver Needs and Family Structure on the Well-being of Children Receivng In-home Child Welfare Services

The Impact of Parents' Marital Structure, Status and Stability on Children's Well-Being

Catherine K. Lawrence, PhD, CSW, School of Social Welfare and Sarah Wright, MSW, LICSW, The University at Albany School of Social Welfare.

Purpose: Parent structure and marital status are visible political issues in the Bush administrationís domestic agenda and ongoing concerns for social work research. Researchers studying the impact of the number of parents and their marital status on child well-being have found both characteristics may be associated with outcomes for children. Other research indicates that the stability of the parentsí relationship status (married, cohabiting or single) is also an important influence on child well-being.

This study addresses the impact of family structure, status and stability on child well-being in a population of children at particular risk of child abuse: children in families with a report of child abuse or neglect. The study explores if two-parent families offer greater stability and protective factors than solo parent families. The study also addresses the impact of marital status on well-being, as current research does not always distinguish between two-parent families that are married and two-parent families in which the adults co-habit. In light of current policy emphasis on legal marriage as preferable to successful cohabitation, this study explores a core question: For families in which there are two parents, is married parenting a protective factor over cohabitation or other forms of unmarried parenting?

Methods: Using a risk and resiliency framework, this study employs secondary data analysis of a sub-sample (N=2,376) of the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), a nationally representative longitudinal probability sample of children known to state Child Protective Services. Child well-being outcomes were measured at Wave 1 and 18 months later at Wave 3. This study employs quantitative tests of significance to test if the indicator is the same, better or worse among the various parental relationship types between Waves 1 and 3. This design allows control for economic and other variation inherent among different parent structures.

Results: Most children in the study sample live with a single caregiver (45.7%). A substantial number, however, live with both biological parents (27.1%), and many live with married parents (31.4%). Initial results indicate parent structure is associated with child well-being. Findings indicate that children living with solo parents are more likely to experience an out-of-home placement by the 18 month interview (X2= 6.642, df=1 p < .01). In addition, any change in parentsí marital status is associated with a significantly higher risk of an out-of-home situation; 18.3% of children in families with a change in the parentsí marital status were removed from home compared with 4.8% of children with no change in parentsí marital status.

Implications: Social work practice in child welfare settings should offer extra support to children and caregivers in solo parent families to achieve positive child welfare outcomes. In addition, child welfare systems may need to encourage the cooperation and involvement not only of married parents but of cohabiting parents in pursuing safety and well-being for children. Services should strive to prevent increased risks to the child when there is any parental marital change.

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