Parenting Stress Among Child Welfare Involved Families: A Multi-Dimensional Analysis
Research has linked parenting stress with an increased risk of child abuse and neglect (Curenton et al, 2009). Identifying and addressing this correlate of child maltreatment is critical given the deleterious long-term effects of child maltreatment on child well-being (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2008), and the persistent negative impacts on families (Malet et al. 2009). In light of these findings, it is important to understand the factors associated with parenting stress among child welfare involved families, both as a preventative mechanism and as an opportunity for targeted intervention. This study examines the relationship between multidimensional factors (parent, child, familial, and social) and parenting stress in a large statewide sample of child welfare involved families.
In-person interviews were conducted with a statewide sample of parents, >18 years, with a child welfare case opened for in-home (43%) or out-of-home services (57%) in the past 30 to 180 days (n = 809; response rate = 82%). A structured questionnaire was used to collect demographics, standardized measures of intimate partner violence, mental health, and substance abuse, in addition to financial hardship. The Parental Stress Scale, was used to measure parenting stress (α = .85; Berry & Jones, 1995). We conducted separate multivariate analyses by placement status given the difference in day-to-day parenting responsibilities for families receiving in-home supervision versus those with children placed in out-of-home care. As further justification, initial analyses revealed that parenting stress scores were significantly different between these groups (p < .001), with parents whose children were in out-of-home placement reporting less stress than parents whose children remained in the home. Parent, child, familial and social predictors of parenting stress are explored.
Analyses controlling for parent demographics (age, education, race), family structure (single parent, number of children), economic hardship (housing instability, food insecurity), and parent chronic risk factors (substance use, mental health, intimate partner violence) were conducted showing that for families receiving in-home supervision, parent mental health (p≤.001), child mental health (p≤.001), and parent age (p<.01) were significant predictors of parenting stress. Whereas for the out-of-home group, food insecurity (p<.001), child mental health (p<.01), and parent age (p≤.001) had strong positive relationships.
Conclusions and implications:
In both groups child mental health was a significant predictor of parenting stress, pointing to the importance of attending to childrens' mental health among child welfare involved families. It is well established that children in the child welfare system are at increased risk of mental health problems (Burns et al. 2004). Our findings underscore the need for mental health screening of children, regardless of placement status, especially given the number of evidence-based interventions available in many communities. Supports and services are also needed for parents receiving in-home supervision to address their mental health problems, potentially lessening stress and preventing out-of-home placement. The unique impact of food insecurity on families of children in out-of-home care may reflect the further economic vulnerability of these parents’ circumstances.