The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Head Start Participation and Mothers' Use of Spanking: A Moderation Analysis By Child Gender

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 10:45 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 001A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
RaeHyuck Lee, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Columbia University, New York, NY
Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, PhD, Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Child and Parent Development and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY
Wen-Jui Han, Professor of Social Work, New York University, New York, NY
Jane Waldfogel, PhD, Compton Foundation Centennial Professor of Social Work for the Prevention of Children's and Youth Problems, Columbia University, New York, NY
Fuhua Zhai, PhD, Assistant Professor, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY
Background and Purpose: Head Start (HS) provides parent education emphasizing the skill-based dimensions of parenting practices, such as cognitive stimulation, child discipline, and child safety. However, the effects of HS on family processes are not well understood. To date, three studies have found beneficial effects of HS on parents’ use of spanking. However, these studies paid little attention to gender differences in estimating the effects, although child gender is an important factor predicting parents’ use of spanking. In addition, the studies did not explore the mechanisms by which HS participation reduced parental spanking. Therefore, in this study, we first explore gender differences in the association between HS participation and mothers’ use of spanking. And then we investigate whether the gender differences in the effects of HS on mothers’ use of spanking are explained by levels of children’s behavior problems.

Methods: Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS‐B), we analyzed a sample of children (n≈7,000) who had valid information on HS participation at the preschool survey and whose mothers had valid information on at least one of parental outcomes at the preschool and kindergarten surveys. HS attendance status was measured at the preschool survey (yes/no). Mothers’ use of spanking was measured using two dichotomous indicators: whether since birth a mother had ever spanked her child until the preschool (or kindergarten) survey and whether a mother spanked her child in the prior week at the preschool (or kindergarten) survey. Two mediation variables were measured both at the preschool and kindergarten surveys standardizing the total scores of parent-reported items that asked about children’s conduct and attention problems. Using propensity-score weighted regressions with an extensive set of covariates, we first confirmed the association between HS and mothers’ use of spanking, separately for girls and boys. We next estimated whether HS is associated with children’s behavior problems, separately for girls and boys. We then finally investigated whether HS is associated with mothers’ use of spanking after controlling for children’s behavior problems, separately for girls and boys. Sobel tests were used to test the significance of found mediation effects.   

Results: Overall, we found HS participation was associated with reduced spanking for boys at the preschool survey (odds ratio=0.79, p<.05), but possibly with increased spanking for girls at the kindergarten survey (odds ratio=1.25, p<.10). Furthermore, we found children’s behavior problems mediated the gender-moderated associations between HS and mother’s use of spanking: reduced spanking among boys at the preschool survey was partially explained by their reduced attention problems (Sobel test=-2.14, p<.05, 15% of the total effects), whereas increased spanking among girls at the kindergarten survey was partially explained by their increased conduct problems (Sobel test=2.75, p<.01, 33% of the total effects).

Implications: Our findings suggest enhancing parent and family services would be a step in the right direction to improve HS programs. More importantly, in addition to exploring main effects of HS, examining moderated effects by child characteristics would deepen our understanding of the possible role of HS programs in reducing the risk of child maltreatment.