Method: This is a secondary data analysis of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCW) (n = 3,798). FFCW is a nationally representative study to comprehensively understand underprivileged families and their children. Maternal depression was measured with three items of mother’ dysphoria from Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI) at year 3. Parental aggravation was measured with four items from the Child Development Supplement (CDS) of the Panel Study at year 5. Child depression was measured with four items of Achenbach’s Child Behavior Checklists (CBCL) at year 9. A path analysis using Mplus version 7 with a robust maximum probability estimate was conducted.
Results: After controlling for covariates (gender, low birth weight, number of children in the household, foreign-born status, education level, ethnicity, income), the path model demonstrated significant mediating effects of parental aggravation between maternal depression and child depression in all family structures (married, b=.007 [.004], p<.001; cohabiting, b=.005 [.002], p<.05; single, b=.005 [.006] p=.05). Among married mothers, positive association was found between maternal depression and the level of parental aggravation (b=.127 [.021], p<.001); parental aggravation tended to increase child depression (b=.059 [.024], p<.001). Among cohabiting mothers, maternal depression tended to increase parental aggravation (b=.078 [.057], p<.01); parental aggravation tended to increase child depression (b=.065 [.029], p<.001). Among single mothers, maternal depression tended to increase parental aggravation (b=.147 [.051], p<.001); parental aggravation tended to increase child depression (b=.034 [.031], p<.05). However, no statistically significant direct effects of maternal depression on child depression were found across all three groups.
Conclusions and Implications: Study findings suggest that maternal depression is associated with depression among children via parental aggravation, particularly among all family structures (married, cohabitation, and single). Given that parental aggravation fully mediated the association between maternal depression and child’s depression, social work practitioners should be aware of the critical impact of parental aggravation on children’s emotional and psychological development regardless of family structures. Furthermore, children in families where there is high parental aggravation will require social work practitioners to provide appropriate preventive and treatment services.