Abstract: Parent's History of Childhood Emotional Neglect Is Associated with Negative Attachment-Related Representations of Infants in Utero (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Parent's History of Childhood Emotional Neglect Is Associated with Negative Attachment-Related Representations of Infants in Utero

Thursday, January 17, 2019: 3:45 PM
Golden Gate 6, Lobby Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Suzanne Brown, PhD, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Katherine Asher, MSW, Doctoral Student, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Carolyn Dayton, PhD, Associate Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI
Purpose:  Research, informed by contemporary attachment theory (Benoit, et. al., 1997) has established the importance of parental representations (perceptions) of infants and young children in determining parenting behaviors and the quality of the parent child relationship. Parental perceptions include the ways that parents interpret their baby’s behavior and the primary emotional states that color their perceptions of the child (Fonagy, 2009).  Mothers who experienced violence during childhood or intimate partner violence in adulthood, develop more negative perceptions of their infants, and more negative perceptions are associated with poorer child development outcomes (Huth-Bocks, et. al., 2004). The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of key psychosocial risk (child abuse and neglect) and resilience factors (social support) on the development of parenting representations during pregnancy.  

Methods: Data were collected from 102 (51 fathers and 51 mothers) low income urban-dwelling expectant parents in Detroit.  Parents were interviewed during the third trimester of pregnancy, a time when maternal thoughts and feelings about the baby become increasingly salient (Slade, 2009). The Working Model of the Child Interview (Zeanah, et. al., 2005) was used to assess parent’s developing representations of their infant in utero.  The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (Bernstein and Fink, 1998) assessed parents’ experiences of abuse and neglect during childhood. The Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (Zimet, et. al., 1988) assessed parents’ current level of social support.  Using OLS linear regression and Bootstrapping in PROCESS macro for SPSS, we examined the impact of childhood neglect and abuse and current social support on qualities of parents’ perceptions of their infant, and the role of social support in moderating the impact of child abuse and neglect on parents’ perceptions of their infant in utero.

Results:  The overall model was significant (F (6,98) = 4.52, p < .01) in predicting parents’ perceptions of infant difficulty, resentment toward the parenting role (F (6,98) = 4.45, p < .01), parenting sensitivity (F (6,98) = 7.14, p < .001), parental reflective functioning (F (6,98) = 3.97, p < .001), and anger (F (6,98) = 4.32, p < .001).  Greater childhood emotional neglect was significantly (p<.01) associated with each of these qualities of parenting perceptions, while childhood abuse was not. Although social support was directly associated with quality of parents’ perceptions (p<.001), it did not moderate the impact of childhood emotional neglect on parenting perceptions.

Conclusion:  This study advances our understanding of risk and resilience factors in the process of relationship development during the prenatal period – for mothers and fathers.  Data reported here suggest that childhood emotional neglect is an important risk for the development of negative parental perceptions of infants in utero, and childhood emotional neglect is understudied relative to childhood abuse. During assessment and intervention social workers should consider parents’ histories of emotional neglect to more comprehensively evaluate risk factors for negative parent-child relationship development.  Additionally, enhancing social support may be an effective avenue for intervention with expectant parents.