Abstract: Housing Insecurity and Aggressive Parenting of Adolescents: The Role of Maternal Distress (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Housing Insecurity and Aggressive Parenting of Adolescents: The Role of Maternal Distress

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Katherine Marçal, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV
Background and Purpose: Housing problems are endemic among low-income families with children in the United States. Chaotic, unstable, or unsafe living environments can impede family stability and youth development, contributing to the overall stressors associated with living in poverty. Housing insecurity indicates high levels of family vulnerability, including risk for maltreatment. Children in unstably housed families face increased risk for maltreatment and are overrepresented in the child welfare system. Despite a large body of research on maltreatment risk among young children, less is known about pathways to maltreatment in adolescence. The present study investigated the role of maternal distress in mediating the link from housing insecurity to aggression in parenting toward adolescent children.

Methods: Data came from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Survey (N = 2,719). Structural equation modeling with latent variables test direct and indirect pathways from housing insecurity to adverse parenting behaviors via maternal depression and parenting stress. Confirmatory factor analysis tested whether observed variables were valid indicators of latent constructs and a structural model tested direct and indirect pathways from housing insecurity to aggression in parenting. Non-recursive path analyses tested direct effects of housing instability on aggression in parenting, as well as indirect effects through maternal depression and parenting stress. Coefficients of indirect effects were calculated as the product of each path. Standard errors for indirect effects were calculated according to Sobel’s test to determine statistical significance. Missing data were handled using Full Information Maximum Likelihood (FIML).

Results: The final analytic sample was comprised of relatively young, socioeconomically diverse families (N = 2,719). Fit indices of the CFA (RMSEA = 0.02, CFI = 0.99, SRMR = 0.02) and structural model (RMSEA = 0.03, CFI = 0.90, SRMR = 0.02) showed excellent fit to the data. Housing insecurity was directly associated with increased aggression in parenting (β = 0.07, p < 0.05), as well as indirectly via maternal depression (β = 0.01, p < 0.05) and parenting stress (β = 0.03, p < 0.001).

Conclusions and Implications: Maternal distress is a significant factor in the link between housing insecurity and maltreatment risk for adolescents. Without access to proper socioeconomic as well as mental health supports, vulnerable families face higher risk for mental distress and adverse parenting in the wake of a housing crisis. Timely detection and intervention for mental distress among families struggling to maintain stable housing offer one opportunity to intervene. Incorporating maternal mental health screening and supports into housing and homeless services may be an effective maltreatment prevention strategy that promotes family stability and adolescent well-being.