Abstract: Mental Health and Parenting Needs of Young, Maltreated Mothers (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Mental Health and Parenting Needs of Young, Maltreated Mothers

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Robinson, MPH, PhD Student, University of Maryland at College Park, MD
Amara Channell Doig, MPH, PhD Student, University of Maryland at College Park, MD
Michelle Jasczynski, MEd, PhD Student, University of Maryland at College Park, MD
Kaitlyn Lee, MPH, Research Assistant, University of Maryland at College Park
Maisha Huq, MPH, PhD Student, University of Maryland at College Park, MD
Danielle Phillips, MSW, Research Assistant, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI
Emily Hillig, Research Assistant, University of Maryland at College Park, MD
Gary Jones, PhD, Assistant Program Director, Hearts and Homes for Youth, MD
Elizabeth Aparicio, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland at College Park, College Park, MD
Background and Purpose: Early childhood is a particularly vulnerable period: children aged five years old and younger who were born to teen mothers with their own history of substantiated child maltreatment have a three times greater likelihood of being reported to child welfare services than those children born to teen mothers without such history. Further, young mothers with a complex trauma history (i.e., experienced multiple types of child maltreatment or other types of violence) are 300 times more likely to be identified as perpetrators of abuse and neglect as those without such history. Despite these risks, young maltreated mothers both express many challenges and speak with great joy and hope in the promise of new beginnings in this next chapter of their lives when asked about their experiences of becoming and being a mother. They have a strong desire to do things differently with their own children than what they experienced in their families of origin. Given the existing literature, trauma-informed parenting support and mental health support appear critical to changing families’ trajectories. Missing from the literature is a theoretical model guiding how to intervene specifically with this group considering their trauma history and embedded, intergenerational context (often, living with their own caregivers while establishing their family unit).

Methods: To address this gap in the literature, our team conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with N=23 participants, including young (aged 18-25), maltreated mothers with very young children and professionals and caregivers serving them. The interviews examined both mental health and parenting needs. We transcribed the audio files verbatim, then used iterative four-phase constructivist grounded theory methods to develop a model of addressing mental health and parenting needs among young, maltreated mothers of very young children.

Results: Grounded theory analysis produced a theoretical model with a core category - “Supporting Trauma-Affected Young Mothers’ Mental Health and Parenting” - and several supporting categories representing facets of mothers’, professionals’, and caregivers’ experiences. Mothers expressed coping with incredible strain on their mental health, parenting, and well-being, such as building a network of support and keeping themselves and their children safe from abusive partners. Professionals described challenges with delivery of mental health and parenting support services, such as the cyclical nature of funding for testing and sustaining evidence-based programs. Caregivers shared their strong desire for supporting the young parents in their care, but expressed that struggles related to roles and responsibilities often made providing this support difficult.

Conclusions and Implications: This study provides a rich, detailed analysis of young parents’ and their support persons’ experiences, informing selection of feasible, appropriate, and acceptable evidence-based parenting support and trauma-focused mental health interventions likely to be effective with families with maltreated young parents. Findings from this study can help with the selection of evidence-based interventions that would sustainably help young mothers with a trauma history to 1) establish secure intergenerational relationships – both with their children and with a support network and 2) reduce trauma symptoms, helping these young parents heal from past experiences and gain security across multiple domains.