Abstract: Foster Parenting Dimensions and Adolescent Mental Health Status (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12157 Foster Parenting Dimensions and Adolescent Mental Health Status

Sunday, January 17, 2010: 10:45 AM
Pacific Concourse F (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Geetha Gopalan, PhD , Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Post-Doctoral Fellow, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Adolescents in foster care have a high likelihood of developing mental health difficulties (Pilowsky & Wu, 2006). Foster parents, as default service providers, may be able to mitigate this risk through their parenting quality. Baumrind's (2005) theoretical framework organizes parenting into two dimensions: responsiveness (e.g., warmth, support for children's autonomy, reciprocity, high attachment) and demandingness (e.g., firm control, consistent positive and negative reinforcement, supervision). However, little research has applied this parenting theory to adolescents in foster care, or utilized a nationally representative sample of foster youth. Consequently, this study examined the relationship between foster parenting quality and mental health outcomes among a national sample of youth placed into foster care. Specifically, this study answered the following research questions: (1) What are the relationships between foster parenting dimensions (responsiveness, demandingness, and their interaction) and adolescent mental health status? (2) Do these associations differ by adolescent gender?

Methods: This study utilized the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), Child Protective Services (CPS) sample. The NSCAW is the first national probability, longitudinal survey of children and families investigated for abuse and neglect in the United States. Data were collected from face-to-face interviews with youth, caregivers, and caseworkers utilizing standardized measures. This study focused on a subsample of 246 adolescents aged 11-15 (mean = 12.78, SE = .15) who were placed in foster care at baseline (Wave 1). Parenting variables were measured at Wave 1 (baseline). Responsiveness was measured using items from two youth-reported scales: the Rochester Assessment Package for Schools (RAPS; Wellborn & Connell, 1987) and the National Longitudinal Study for Adolescent Health Relations with Parents Scale (Add Health; Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2001). Demandingness was measured using the youth-reported Parental Monitoring scale (Dishion et al, 1991). Adolescent mental health outcomes were measured at Wave 3 (18 months after baseline), using the internalizing and externalizing subscales of the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach 1991) and Youth Self Report (YSR; Achenbach 1991). Covariates included Wave 1 measured demographic and case history information (i.e., number of prior placements, kinship placement status, primary abuse type). Multiple imputation was used to address missing data. Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) multiple regression models for each outcome examined the influence of foster parenting dimensions and the moderating effects of adolescent gender while controlling for additional covariates. All analyses accounted for sampling weights and the survey's two-stage sampling design.

Results: Key findings indicate that greater levels of foster parenting demandingness are associated with less caregiver-reported externalizing symptoms for all youth. Greater levels of responsiveness for girls are associated with less youth-reported internalizing symptoms.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings are consistent with prior research indicating that parental demandingness is associated with reduced youth externalizing behavior. Findings further indicate a substantial gender effect, where adolescent girls in foster care manifest less internalizing symptoms with increased foster parent responsiveness. Results from the current study may enhance current foster care practices, with increased attention on selecting and training foster parents based on parenting quality.