Methods: Using multi-wave data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCW) (N=4,898), this study used descriptive analysis and hierarchical regression to test hypothesized associations. Forty percent of the sample is African-American, non-Hispanic, 35 percent are Latinos, and 12 percent are immigrants. Parental capacity was measured by frequency of parents’ engagement in activities with the child per week (e.g., sing songs/nursery rhymes; hug or show physical affection). Cumulative adversity is a 9-item index of adversities experienced by the mother (e.g. food and housing insecurity, partner violence). Parental stress is a 4-item parenting stress Likert scale from the Child Development Supplemental Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Informal support was measured using perceived access to support from others.
Results: Results supported the hypothesized links between adversity, parenting stress, parenting capacities, and informal support. Adversity is associated with greater parenting stress among African Americans, Latinas, and white mothers (p<.05) and diminished parent-child engagement but only for African American (β=.10) and Latina (β=.06) mothers. Informal support emerged as significant resource for mitigating some of the impacts of parental adversity on parenting capacities, but only for African-American (β=-.176) and white mothers (β=-.204). Findings also reveal important distinctions between racial groups in the significance of the associations. Mothers of color contend with greater adversity across multiple domains and experience higher parenting stress. They also scored lower in parent-child activities and reported less informal supports. For these families, findings suggest that cumulative experiences of adversity are implicated in their worsening parental stress and lesser engagement with their children. Despite evidence in this study that support the attenuating effect of social support, it was not significant for Latina mothers.
Conclusion: This study reveal important evidence regarding cumulative adversity and parenting and the racial variations in the various distinctive experiences and cumulative burdens of mothers of color. Findings underscore the importance of considering racial and ethnic backgrounds in the design of social work interventions that seek to address adversity and its corrosive effect on parenting. This is especially salient for research focusing on families at risk for greater exposures to adversity and who are at the intersections of many disparities and multiple systems involvement.