Abstract: Single Mothers, Substance Misuse and Child Well-being: Examining the Effects of Family Structure and Service Provision in the Child Welfare System (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12218 Single Mothers, Substance Misuse and Child Well-being: Examining the Effects of Family Structure and Service Provision in the Child Welfare System

Thursday, January 14, 2010: 2:00 PM
Pacific Concourse A (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Natasha S. Mendoza, PhD , Research Institute on Addictions, Post-doctoral Fellow, Buffalo, NY
Background and Purpose: When caregivers misuse substances, children are more likely to experience physical, developmental, intellectual, social, and emotional problems. When single mothers misuse substances, a potentially challenging situation may become compounded. Children who reside with a single parent (most often the mother) experience abuse at twice the rate of children who live with two parents. This study examines problems related to family structure and the current social crisis that manifests as a result of the intersection of child maltreatment and substance misuse. Drawing on ecological systems theory and feminist role and relationship theories, the study examines the connection between child well-being, child welfare services and the impact of family structure and substance misuse. Social services provided to the family (i.e., concrete, educational, mental/behavioral health, and physical health services) are analyzed to determine their mediating effect on child well-being outcomes 36 months after an initial investigation by Child Protective Services. The research is based on the following three hypotheses: (1) The amount and type of service provision will mediate the impact of pre-service child well-being upon post-service child well-being (2) Family structure (i.e., single mothers v. supported mothers) and the presence of substance misuse will moderate service provision and its impact upon post service outcomes (3) Families with supported mothers and without the presence of substance misuse will demonstrate the most positive outcomes.

Methods: This study utilizes the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW) and secondary data analysis to describe and make inferences about hypothesized relationships. The primary analytical technique is Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) with multiple groups in consideration of the complex sample. The analysis is considered progressive because the techniques that apply complex sample design (i.e., weights, clusters and strata) to simultaneous equations have only begun to build momentum over the past five years.

Results: Findings demonstrate a clear partial mediation of service provision; the effect of child well-being at Wave I on child well-being at Wave IV significantly decreases as a function of child services (i.e., the indirect effect of services is significant). Results show little evidence supporting a family structure and/or substance misuse moderator; however, there is some evidence suggesting that supported mothers with no substance misuse problems fare better than single mothers with substance misuse problems.

Implications: Findings are explored and recommendations are made for future research based on theory, strengths and limitations of the study. Implications are discussed with an emphasis on prevention and early intervention services such as Alternative or Differential Response. The discussion highlights the need to consider additional confounding factors influencing the well-being of children over time such as placement moves and re-report of maltreatment. Researchers are encouraged to continue inquiry into the impact of single motherhood and gender-specific substance misuse and abuse.