Abstract: Examining Change in Parenting, Mental Health and Early Child Development in Immigrant Families Participating in a Trauma-Focused Intervention (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Examining Change in Parenting, Mental Health and Early Child Development in Immigrant Families Participating in a Trauma-Focused Intervention

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Ruth Paris, PhD, Associate Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Mihoko Maru, MSW, Doctoral Student, Boston University
Karen Garber, Director, Jewish Family and Children's Services
Background and Purpose: Immigrant parents raising young children often face challenges in their new countries including family separation, fear of deportation, limited social and concrete support, trauma symptomatology, and overall parenting stress (Yoshikawa & Kholoptseva, 2013). These pressures contribute to cumulative strains on parenting practices and ultimately impact the young child’s development. Although community social service agencies have begun to adapt and implement evidence-based trauma-focused interventions to address the needs of immigrant families, little is known about whether participation is associated with improvement in parenting and child development. This quasi-experimental study uses evaluation data to examine changes in parenting knowledge and stress, mental health and child social-emotional development with predominantly Latinx immigrant families participating in a home-based intervention for young children and their caregivers.

Methods: Baseline and discharge data collected at a community agency offering Child-Parent Psychotherapy to primarily immigrant Latinx families with young children were used for analysis (M sessions=19.2, SD=8.0). All variables were measured using standardized instruments in Spanish or English (Protective Factors Survey, [PFS, Knowledge of parenting], Parenting Stress Index [PSI], Brief Symptom Inventory [BSI], Posttraumatic Stress Checklist [PCL], and Devereux Early Childhood Assessment [DECA]). T-tests were computed on all variables of interest to assess change from baseline to discharge.

Results: The sample consisted of 33 caregivers (mean age=33.5 years, SD=6.4) and their young children (mean age=37.4 months, SD=21.0); 88% were Latinx immigrants, mostly from Central America (62%). Approximately half were never married, and half had less than a high school degree. The majority had household incomes less than $24,999 (60.7%). At baseline, caregivers reported a mean of 10 lifetime traumatic events for themselves and 3 traumatic events for their young children. 55% of caregivers scored as at risk or high parenting stress (PSI); overall mean mental health score was 0.78 on the BSI; 30.3% of caregivers were at-risk for PTSD. Preliminary results showed significant change from baseline to discharge in parenting knowledge (PFS, t=2.54, p=.02*), aspects of mental health (BSI, obsessive compulsive subscale, t= -2.16, p= .04*), trauma symptoms (PCL, t=-3.16, p=.003**) and child social-emotional development (t=2.16, p=.04*). Change was noted at the trend level in parenting stress (PSI, Difficult Child- t= -1.72, p= .095t) and protective factors (PFS, Concrete Support- t=1.88, p=0.07t). Effect sizes for change were small to medium (.30-.55).

Conclusions: Preliminary results underscore the feasibility of implementing a trauma-focused intervention for primarily Latinx immigrant families with young children in a community social work setting. Moreover, results suggest that caregiver mental health, trauma symptoms and child social-emotional development may improve over the course of the intervention. Given the small N and quasi-experimental design results should be interpreted with caution. However, they are promising and point to the need for further research with a larger N and an experimental design to further test implementation of the intervention and to clarify the mechanisms whereby change in parenting, caregiver mental health and child social-emotional development occur. The results are particularly important given increased fear and isolation in immigrant communities due to the current COVID pandemic.