The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Assessing the Validity of the Family Support Scale with Black Head Start Families: Parental Ethnicity and Gender Matter

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 5:00 PM
Executive Center 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Linnie Green Wright, PhD, Assistant Professor, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA
Christine A. McWayne, PhD, Associate Professor, Tufts University, Medford, MA
Jacqueline Mattis, PhD, Professor, New York University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Black families represent an increasing number of minority families in the U.S., but are disproportionately more likely to be headed by a single parent and live in poverty, two risk factors for child and parent outcomes. Using social support networks can buffer against these risks. Thus, research on the utilization of social support networks by Black parents can impact some of our most vulnerable families. However, it is crucial to use measures validated with populations participating in this research. Unfortunately, the important cultural differences of Black ethnic groups are often overlooked in empirical studies. African Americans and Caribbean Americans have different cultural experiences that influence parenting and community engagement. Further, it is often solely the mothers’ experiences in utilizing social support networks that are documented. Research focusing on Black fathers has been scant. Although previous validation research has been conducted with a social support measure, there is a call for further research to explore the validity of this measure with ethnic-minority Head Start families. This study aimed to identify accurate factor structures that reflect the use of social supports in parenting for a diverse group of Black mothers and fathers of Head Start children.

Methods: Five hundred and sixty-four parents (453 mothers and 111 fathers) were recruited from eight Head Start programs serving a low-income, predominantly Black community. Parents were recruited in their Head Start programs and asked to complete a demographic form and the Family Social Support Scale (FSS), an 18-item self-report measure created to assess the helpfulness of sources of support in families rearing young children. Data analyses included descriptive statistics and principal components analysis. These data analysis procedures were selected and employed to replicate the procedures of previous studies of the psychometric properties of the FSS to maximize comparisons across studies.

Results: The current study resulted in a four-factor structure with the sample of African American and Caribbean mothers and fathers. Analyses revealed varying factor structures when examining subsamples of mothers and fathers, and African American and Caribbean parents. Although some factors were comparable across mothers and fathers (e.g., kinship networks, social groups) other factors (and item-loadings) varied across groups (e.g., peers, community resources, and community professionals). Similar results were found when comparing African American and Caribbean parents. Further, analyses of the data revealed that mothers and fathers, and African American and Caribbean parents utilized their social support networks differently (e.g., mothers used social organizations more than fathers and Caribbean parents used kinship networks more than African American parents).

Conclusions and Implications: This study provides further information on the psychometric properties of the FSS, which indicates that while previous factor structures have been identified for this measure, without considering the importance of parental ethnicity (not just race) and gender, a true understanding of the validity of this measure with low-income, Black families is not captured. Findings have implications for the future use of this measure (and others) with Black families, how researchers think about measure validity with diverse samples, and social support intervention development.