Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

95 The Family Context of Early Childhood Mental Health Problems

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Franklin Square (Grand Hyatt Washington)
Cluster: Mental Health
Symposium Organizer:
Renee C. Edwards, AM, University of Chicago
Susan C. McDonough, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Background and Purpose: There is increasing evidence that behavioral and emotional problems can emerge very early on in life (Briggs-Gowan, Carter, Bosson-Heenan, Guyer, & Horwitz, 2006), and are associated with later mental health problems, poor school functioning, difficulty with peer relationships, and other related problems (Lahey et al, 2008; Mesman, Bongers, & Koot, 2001). It is essential that we understand the conditions under which young children are at increased risk of developing problems in order to design effective prevention and intervention services. The purpose of the studies presented in this symposium is to examine aspects of parenting and the family environment that are associated with the development of problem behaviors in young children. The first paper focuses on how temperament and the family environment during infancy are related to internalizing and co-occurring internalizing and externalizing behaviors during early childhood. The prevalence and predictors of spanking in the first few years of life, and the association between spanking/harsh discipline and later externalizing problems and cognitive development are the focus of a second paper. The final paper explores how different dimensions of parenting are related to child behavior in a sample of mothers receiving treatment for substance use.

Methods: Symposium papers utilize a rich array of observational and parent report measures to assess parenting, parent and child characteristics, various aspects of the family environment, and child behavior. Each paper focuses on vulnerable children and families, including families of unmarried parents, families affected by substance use, and lower income, ethnic minority families. Two papers use longitudinal data that span the first five years of life, and all three use quantitative methods to analyze the data.

Results: A common finding across all three papers is that harsh/hostile parenting is highly related to child behavior problems, even after taking into account a variety of potentially confounding factors. Additionally, the two longitudinal papers demonstrate that harsh parenting in the first few years of life is associated with problem behaviors several years later. One paper will show that spanking remains a common practice among parents, and will identify characteristics of families who are more and less likely to spank. Two papers will discuss additional aspects of the family environment that are related to internalizing and externalizing behaviors, including maternal psychopathology, drug use, and family conflict.

Conclusion and Implications: Social workers who serve young children and their families in their homes, clinics, and schools are often confronted with child behavioral and emotional problems. The research presented in this symposium points to the importance of providing support to parents so that they are able to interact with their young children in warm and responsive ways, and engage in parenting practices that support their children's development. Following symposium papers, the discussant will talk about how this research matters for early childhood mental health practice, and offer expertise on current evidence based interventions designed to support parents in an effort to prevent the development of child behavior problems.

* noted as presenting author
Who Is Left Spanking? Harsh Corporal Punishment and Child Behavioral and Cognitive Outcomes Through 5 Years-of-Age
Michael J. MacKenzie, PhD, Columbia University; Eric Nicklas, PhD, Columbia University; Jane Waldfogel, PhD, Columbia University; Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, PhD, Teachers College, Columbia University
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