Abstract: Adolescent Motherhood: Understanding the Link Between Maternal Depression, Parenting, and Child Maltreatment (Society for Social Work and Research 20th Annual Conference - Grand Challenges for Social Work: Setting a Research Agenda for the Future)

Adolescent Motherhood: Understanding the Link Between Maternal Depression, Parenting, and Child Maltreatment

Friday, January 15, 2016: 1:45 PM
Ballroom Level-Renaissance Ballroom West Salon A (Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel)
* noted as presenting author
Chie Kotake, MA, Doris Duke Fellow for the Promotion of Child Well-Being, Tufts University, Medford, MA
Ann Easterbrooks, PhD, Professor, Tufts University, Medford, MA
Background and Purpose:  Maternal depression diminishes parenting competence and confidence among adolescent mothers, increasing risk for parenting challenges and child maltreatment that may result in physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional difficulties, thus threatening the opportunity for a good and healthy start for the child.  Despite the potentially detrimental impact of maternal depression on adolescent parenting and children’s outcomes, the link between maternal depression and child maltreatment is still inconclusive; many young mothers who experience depression are successful parents.  This reveals multiple pathways of association between maternal depression and child maltreatment.  The present study examined the longitudinal trajectories of maternal depression among young mothers across the first two years of parenting to answer the following questions: 1) does the rate of child maltreatment vary across different depression trajectory profiles?; 2) does early parenting predict the rate of child maltreatment, with different associations across different depression trajectories?; and 3) do three selected protective factors: (a) mother’s ability to recognize her child’s mental states, (b) her partner relationship, and (c) her participation in a home visitation program, promote positive early parenting, with different effects across different depression trajectories?  

Method: The sample consisted of 508 mother-infant dyads who participated in an evaluation of a state-wide home visiting program for first-time mothers under age 21.  Data were collected annually for three years.  Growth Mixture Modeling was used to examine patterns of maternal depression trajectories using self-reported scores of depression across three time points (Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression).  Multiple group path analysis, controlling for maternal age at birth, child’s age at second data collection, income, and previously filed child maltreatment reports was used to analyze the associations between mothers’ early parenting (Emotional Availability Scales, Infancy to Early Childhood version), rate of child maltreatment (Child Protective Services agency reports), and three protective factors: mind-mindedness, mother-father relationship, home visiting program participation (Mind Mindedness; Quality of Relationships Inventory).

Results: The growth mixture model revealed five viable maternal depression trajectories: Stable-nondepressed, Stable-lowdepressed, Stable-highdepressed, Decreasing, and Increasing.  The multiple group path analyses revealed that although the number of child maltreatment reports was similar across depression trajectories, early positive parenting was related to fewer number of child maltreatment reports filed after children were about a year old for chronically and severely depressed mothers.  Longer duration of program enrollment and more home visits were associated with less optimal parenting, suggesting the dire need of services by mothers with greater parenting challenges.   

Conclusions and Implications: The findings suggest heterogeneous experiences of maternal depression among young mothers and emphasize the importance of child maltreatment prevention efforts in the very early years of parenthood to meet the Grand Challenge of ensuring all youth get a good and healthy start.  The implications for research, policy, and practice include the importance of: 1) regular screening and monitoring procedures for maternal depression; 2) collaborations with other agencies for addressing mental health issues; and 3) sequencing of service delivery suitable for the most vulnerable group of young mothers to promote their capability of becoming the parents that all children need.