Abstract: Does Parenting Stress Mediate the Effect of Maternal Trauma on Perceived Child Functioning? an Exploratory Analysis (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Does Parenting Stress Mediate the Effect of Maternal Trauma on Perceived Child Functioning? an Exploratory Analysis

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Archives, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Mihoko Maru, MA, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Boston University, Boston, MA
Ruth Paris, PhD, Associate Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose: Mothers with trauma histories who are parents to young children may need extra support to manage caregiver responsibilities while also dealing with concurrent challenges, such as poor mental health. Low-income mothers are particularly at risk for traumatic stress (e.g., Young, Tolman, Witkowski, & Kaplan, 2004). Furthermore, research has supported that maternal trauma can negatively impact parenting capacity and serve as a risk factor for maladaptive parenting, thus affecting young children’s socio-emotional development including poor emotion regulation, internalizing and externalizing behaviors, and difficult temperament (Cross et al., 2018; van Ee et al., 2016). Some evidence point to the association of parenting stress and maternal PTSD (Cross et al., 2018; McDonald, Slade, Spiby, & Illes, 2011), therefore, it is plausible that parenting stress partially explains the mechanism that underlies the relationship between maternal trauma and child functioning. The present study tested whether parenting stress mediates the effect of maternal trauma on perceived child functioning.

Methods: A socio-demographically diverse community sample of N=47 mothers (83% Latinx) with young children in a northeastern U.S. city was enrolled in a dyadic parenting intervention. Baseline data were collected at time of enrollment measuring parenting stress (Parenting Stress Index [PSI]) and traumatic or stressful life events (Life Stressor Checklist-Revised [LSC-R]). Five items from the caregiver version of the SAMHSA Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) Client-level Services Tool were used to measure perceived child behavioral functioning (Cronbach’s α=0.75). Sample mean age was 32.7±9.5 years, 57.4% were unmarried, 68.1% had a high school diploma or less, 61.7% were unemployed, 66% had at least two children, and 70.7% had less than $25,000 annual household income. A mediation analysis (Baron & Kenny, 1986) was conducted using multiple regression.

Results: The mothers in the sample reported 10.7 traumatic or stressful life events on average, where ‘physical abuse/violence by someone they knew’, ‘death of someone close’, and ‘serious money problems’ were the three most common events. Mean PSI total score was 79.3±18.1 (a score of 75-89=at risk, 90 or above=high stress) and the mean rating of child functioning items was 3.9±0.8 (on a scale of 1-5, high score=high functioning). Results showed that LSC-R was a significant predictor of child functioning (B=-0.35, p=0.02), but was no longer significant after including PSI in the model. PSI was a significant predictor of child functioning (B=-0.39, p<0.01) controlling for LSC-R. Thus, PSI fully mediated the relationship between maternal trauma and perceived child functioning.

Conclusions and Implications: A significant but indirect relationship between maternal trauma and perceived child functioning (Effect size=-0.02, 95%CI [-0.05, -0.002]) mediated by parenting stress was observed in a diverse sample of mothers. The findings provide preliminary evidence that parenting stress ought to be considered when understanding the impact of maternal trauma on child functioning. Interventions that address parenting stress may help mitigate the negative effects of the mother’s trauma history on child development. Further studies are needed to understand the impact of different types of trauma on parenting stress and child development among socio-demographically diverse families.