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

Demographic, Maltreatment, and Maternal Characteristics That Predict Trauma Symptomology in Child Welfare Involved Young Children: A Statewide Analysis

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 11:45 AM
Nautilus 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Rachel A. Fusco, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Helen Cahalane, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor and Principal Investigator, Child Welfare Education and Research Programs, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background/ Purpose. It is well-documented that child maltreatment can have a deleterious effect on the mental health of children, including trauma symptomology. What is not clear is why some children develop these symptoms and others do not. There has been inadequate examination of the role other variables such as the role of gender, race, and maltreatment type. Young children receiving child welfare services (CWS) are underrepresented in the trauma literature and in the development of effective treatments.

Research shows that maternal stressors mediate the relationship between violence exposure and problem behaviors in young children. What has not been examined is the relationship between maternal stressors and the outcomes of maltreated children. One variable to be explored is mother’s own history of child maltreatment, as this has been related to maternal depression, which could be a pathway to the transmission of both maltreatment and child trauma.

This study reports data from 3 to 5 year-old children receiving CWS across Pennsylvania (N=99). Interviews with a random sample of mothers and a statewide maltreatment database were used, and children were screened using the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Young Children (TSCYC). Three questions were examined: (1) How many children show clinical levels of trauma symptomology? (2) Is there a relationship between maternal childhood history of child welfare involvement and child trauma? (3) Which child, maternal, and maltreatment-related characteristics predict clinical scores for trauma symptomology?

Methods. Descriptive, bivariate, and multivariate logistic regression analyses were used to examine case, family, and maternal factors related to clinically significant scores on the TSCYC. Independent variables were child demographics, living situation, maltreatment type, maternal mental health, intimate partner violence (IPV), maltreatment substantiation, and mother’s history of childhood CWS.

Results. Roughly 22% of the children demonstrated trauma symptomology within clinical cut-offs. Bivariate correlations showed a relationship between trauma symptoms and biracial ethnicity, foster care, neglect, IPV, and maternal childhood involvement in CWS. Logistic regression showed that biracial children were three times more likely to have trauma symptomology (p<.05; OR=3.03). Children referred for neglect (p<.05; OR=1.34) were more likely to have trauma symptoms, as were children in homes where there was IPV (p<.01; OR=1.77). When mothers had their own history of child welfare involvement, children were less likely to have trauma symptoms (p<.05; OR=.67).

Implications. This is one of the few studies to explore trauma symptomology in preschool-aged children receiving CWS. Children showed high rates of trauma symptomology which is concerning given the lack of mental health services for young children. Greater trauma among biracial children may reflect a need for more culturally proficient services.  Findings support studies showing neglect’s association with trauma symptoms, although this continues to be understudied. IPV was related to child trauma, supporting studies showing negative effects of multiple types of violence. Finally, the finding that maternal childhood history of CWS was negatively related to child trauma was unexpected. These women may be better equipped to help their children cope with environmental challenges. Mothers may also underreport child symptoms as a consequence of their own childhood experiences.