Abstract: Predicting Child Abuse Risk during the Covid-19 Pandemic: Findings from a Longitudinal Study (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

Predicting Child Abuse Risk during the Covid-19 Pandemic: Findings from a Longitudinal Study

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Christina Rodriguez, PhD, Professor, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL
Shawna Lee, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, MI
Paul Silvia, PhD, Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Greensboro, NC
Background and Purpose: The Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to enormous strain on parents’ abilities to parent their children, which can contribute to elevated risk for maltreatment. In addition to the economic burden ushered in by the pandemic, parents’ anxiety and mental health is likely to be compromised under these conditions. The current study examines parenting factors assessed prior to the pandemic (parental mental health, substance use, social support, coping ability, and emotion regulation ability) as predictors of subsequent child abuse risk and reported changes in parenting during the pandemic. Individual predictors were identified that would either potentially increase their abuse risk and adverse parenting during the pandemic (mental health problems, substance abuse) or potentially serve as protective factors that could herald better adjustment during the pandemic (social support satisfaction, engaged coping style, emotion regulation).

Methods: Participants in this study are mothers enrolled in a prospective longitudinal study, involving a racially and socioeconomically diverse sample that began collecting data during the last trimester of mothers’ pregnancy. Enrollment intentionally oversampled for risk, with half representing sociodemographically at-risk families. Mothers participated in four waves of data collection prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. A random subsample of approximately 120 mothers were invited to participate in an online study beginning one month after local schools were closed and guidelines for social distancing were implemented in response to the pandemic. Mothers were asked to report on their physical child abuse risk using the Adult-Adolescent Parenting Inventory and the Brief Child Abuse Potential Inventory, as well as their discipline encounters using the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale. In addition, parents reported on whether they believe they had engaged in more physical discipline, verbal aggression, and physical and emotion neglect during the Covid-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, at each earlier time point, mothers had reported on their mental health (Brief Symptom Index) and substance use (Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Scale), as well as their social support satisfaction (Social Support Resources Index), problem-focused coping ability (Coping Self-Efficacy Scale), and emotion regulation (Negative Mood Regulation Scale).

Results: Data collection is ongoing and expected to be completed by mid-May 2020. Mothers’ mental health, social support satisfaction, problem-focused coping ability, and emotion regulation will serve as predictors of their subsequent abuse risk and parenting during the Covid-19 public health crisis.

Conclusions and Implications: Findings from this study will clarify whether mothers’ functioning prior to the pandemic could have been utilized to identify specific qualities that would either increase (mental health problem, substance use) or decrease (social support, coping ability, emotion regulation) their risk for child maltreatment during this time of unprecedented stress. Proactive efforts to identify both risk and resilience factors are consistent with public health approaches that attempt to identify strengths and weaknesses in populations at risk to engage in maltreatment.