Methods: The study sample includes 626 mothers with children aged 12-48 months who participated in the Families and Children Thriving (FACT) Study, a longitudinal investigation into the health and well-being of at-risk families who received home visiting services. In addition to demographic information, survey data were collected on mothers’ childhood and adult adversity, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress. Children’s socio-emotional development was measured via maternal responses to the Brief Infant Toddler Social Emotional Assessment. Path analysis was applied to assess whether mothers’ mental health problems and adult adversity mediated the association between maternal ACE scores (range 0-10) and children’s socio-emotional outcomes.
Results: Study findings indicated that 82.7% of mothers reported at least 1 ACE, and 82.4% reported one or more adult adversities. Path analysis results indicated that there was a significant main-effect association between maternal ACE scores and both maternal adult adversity (b = 0.48, 95% CI = 0.42, 0.54) and mental health (b = 0.16, 95% CI = 0.06, 0.25). Adult adversity also forged a significant association with maternal mental health (b = 0.61, 95% CI = 0.52, 0.69), and maternal mental health was significantly associated with child problem scores (b = 0.40, 95% CI = 0.24, 0.57). The adult adversity index was not directly associated with child problem scores, however (b = -0.10, 95% CI = -0.26, 0.06). In the full path model, maternal ACEs were not significantly associated with child problem scores (b = -0.01, 95% CI = -0.10, 0.08). The total indirect effect of ACEs on child problem via adult adversity and mental health was significant (b = 0.15, 95% CI = 0.08, 0.23).
Conclusions and Implications: This study revealed that the association between maternal ACEs and children’s social-emotional problems were mediated by maternal adult adversity and mental health problems. Research findings underscore the need for targeted intervention strategies that can address maternal trauma and children’s social emotional problems simultaneously and thereby interrupt the intergenerational transmission of trauma. Future research also needs to explore other potential pathways that can explain the intergenerational transmission of ACEs, including parenting attitudes and behaviors.