Social Support and Child Maltreatment: Sources and Features of Social Support
Methods: Using longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing study, information on 2,456 mothers who participated in the 3 and 5 year FFCW core and in-home interviews is analyzed. Dependent variables are the mother’s self-reported acts of nonviolent discipline, psychological aggression and physical assault from the Conflict Tactics Scale: Parent-Child Version (CTS-PC). Index scores of social support are calculated in three ways and used in the analysis. First, the overall social support score is created as the total number (0 to 7) of supports to which a mother has access, regardless of the source. Second, the number of informal and formal supports are created separately to differentiate the source of support. Lastly informal support is divided into enacted (utilized) support and perceived (potential) support. Logistic regression for each time point and fixed effects logit model using both data waves were used to estimate the effect of social support on maternal maltreatment behaviors as well as nonviolent discipline.
Results: In cross-sectional analyses, several associations between social support and maltreatment behaviors are found, but the associations differ across time points, sources and features of social support. Formal support and enacted informal support are associated with nonviolent discipline, psychological and physical maltreatment but the directions are inconsistent. The fixed effect estimations reveal associations between social support and psychological maltreatment whereas there are no significant associations with physical maltreatment and nonviolent discipline. For each additional formal support, a mother is less likely to engage in psychological maltreatment. However, changes in informal support are not associated with changes in mother’s maltreatment behaviors and nonviolent discipline.
Conclusions and Implications: Compared to previous cross-sectional research, this study assesses the effect of social support using a longitudinal approach. The results suggest that several observed associations of formal and informal support in cross-sectional models are not robust to fixed effect models. This study also shows that relationships between social support and child maltreatment behaviors vary by sources and features of support. The results provide important implications for child maltreatment prevention to relieve stressors and hardship that families face. Future research should consider the sources and features of social support in predicting maltreatment behaviors.