Social Support, Material Hardship, Personal Control and Neglectful Parenting
Previous studies have found some predictors of child neglect such as poverty, lack of social support, and lack of personal control (Guterman, et al., 2009; Lyons, et al., 2005; Slack et al., 2011). However, our understanding of the nature of child neglect is still limited especially in that we still do not know the process through which material hardship, an indicator of poverty, exerts its impact on neglect (McSherry, 2004; Slack et al., 2011). This study examines through a pathway model, how material hardship interacts with protective factors such as social support and risk factors such as lack of personal control leading to a neglectful parenting. The findings provide empirical basis for child neglect prevention strategies. The pathway model incorporates five hypotheses, namely: 1) as social support increases, material hardship will decrease; 2) as social support increases, lack of personal control will decrease; 3) as material hardship increases lack of personal control will increases; 4) as material hardship increases, neglectful parenting will increase; and 5) as lack of personal control increases, neglectful parenting will increase.
This study uses self-reports of material hardships, social support, lack of personal control and a neglectful parenting from a subgroup of mothers participating in Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing studies (N=3,236). First, confirmatory factor analysis was used to develop a measurement model. Second, structural equation modeling estimated the model fit and coefficients for relationships among variables. For binary dependent variables of neglectful parenting, SEM produced probit regression coefficients and for continuous, ordinary least squares regression coefficients. We also conducted subgroup analysis with three racial groups, White, black, and other.
The model of neglectful parenting had a good fit (RMSEA .035, CFI 961, TLI 954) which indicates that the data support the model very well. All five hypothesized relationships were significant in the expected directions. As social support increased, material hardship decreased (-.087, p<.001). As social support increased, lack of personal control decreased (-.179, p<.001). As material hardship increased, lack of personal control increased (.162, p<.001). As material hardship increased, neglectful parenting increased (.115, p<.001). As lack of personal control increased, neglectful parenting increased (.360, p<.001). The model held across the different racial subgroups.
These findings suggest that protective (social support) and risk (lack of personal control, material hardship) factors occur simultaneously to impact a neglectful parenting. Social support is critical to reduce material hardship and lack of personal control, and ultimately to prevent neglectful parenting. Negative impacts of material hardship had both direct and indirect impact on a neglectful parenting mediated by personal control. It seems that material support programs can be more effective when targeting increased personal control as well as reducing material hardship. Social support interventions are useful to improve personal control and reduce material hardship when material support from professionals is limited.