Methods: Longitudinal multi-wave data were drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Well-being Study (N=4,898) with a nationally representative sample of African-American and Latino mothers and their children in U.S. urban cities. Structural equation modeling (SEM) was used to test hypothesized relations among variables using chi-square, Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI), Comparative Fit Index (CFI), and Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA) to assess model fit. Measures meeting psychometric standards include endogenous variable: Child socio-emotional health (Wave 5; 19-item subscale from Child Behavior Checklist); exogenous variable: parental adversity (Baseline and Wave 1; sum of mother’s self-reported adversities including social disadvantage and family instability in childhood, health status, experiences of partner violence, food insecurity, housing insecurity, financial insecurity, partner incarceration, and mental health challenges); and, mediator variables: parental stress (Wave 3; 4-item Likert-scale measuring perceptions of parenting role; and parenting practices (Wave 3; self-reported frequency of mother engaging the child in developmentally appropriate activities).
Results: Fit indices indicate good fit of the model to the data (TLI=.94, CFI=.94, RMSEA=.03). Results supported the hypothesized direct contribution of parental adversity to socio-emotional health, where more parental adversity predicted worse socio-emotional health at age 5. This link is significant across racial/ethnic groups but the magnitude of the association was strongest for whites. Results also showed that the association is mediated by parental stress (path coefficient = .061) but not by parenting practices and only for African-Americans. Descriptive and model validation will also be presented.
Conclusion/Implications: Results show strong evidence of the intergenerational link between parental adversities and the socio-emotional health of their children. This study’s use of a two-generation model and empirically testing it with longitudinal data contributes relatively new evidence regarding adversity’s proximal effects and the intergenerational pathways that link it to early childhood socio-emotional health. The mediating role of parental stress underscores the necessity for interventions to reduce parental stress and for policies that target the reduction of chronic and toxic sources of stress, especially for African-Americans in this sample. Further implications for social work research and practice will be discussed.