Methods: In-person interviews were conducted with a statewide sample of parents, 18 years and older, with a child welfare case opened for in-home (43%) or out-of-home services (57%) in the past 30 to 180 days (n = 809; response rate = 82%). A structured questionnaire was used to collect demographics, standardized measures of domestic violence, mental health, substance abuse, and trauma, in addition to financial hardship. The Parental Stress Scale, was used to measure parenting stress(α = .85) (Abidin, 1995). We estimate a multivariate model to examine possible parent, child, familial and social predictors of parenting stress.
Results: A multivariate analysis controlling for parent characteristics (age, race, substance use, prior sexual abuse), familial characteristics (in-home vs. out-of-home care, partner status, number of children and adults, presence of young children, domestic violence), and social characteristics (housing and economic hardship) showed that parental mental health (p < .005) and child mental health (p = .000) had a strong positive relationship with parenting stress. Parents whose children were in out-of-home care reported less stressed than parents who were receiving in-home supervision (p < .05). Furthermore, parental age had a strong positive relationship with parenting stress (p = .006). The adjusted R2 is .13.
Conclusions and implications: Our analysis underscores the importance of attending to child and parent mental health in families known to the child welfare system. It is well-established that children in the child welfare system are at increased risk of mental health problems (Burns et al. 2004). However, our findings point to the need for mental health screening of children whose families are receiving in-home supervision, especially given the number of evidence-based interventions available in many communities. Similarly, mental health services for parents are needed to lessen parenting stress and support positive parenting. That parents of placed children report less stress is open to interpretation, but it may simply reflect relief from the daily pressures of parenting. Evidence suggests that children's behavioral problems can escalate upon return home (Bellamy, 2008), highlighting the importance of addressing child and parent mental health while children are in care.