Methods: The data used for this secondary analysis was collected as part of an RCT of a psychoeducation mentalizing intervention for foster parents, conducted from January 2017 to April 2018 in Texas (N=61). Mediation and linear regression analyses were conducted to examine the relationship between scores on the ACEs, the Parental Reflective Function Questionnaire and the Parent/Child Dysfunctional Interaction scale of the Parenting Stress Index.
Results: Results indicated that foster parents’ ACEs were indirectly related to parenting stress from parent/child dysfunctional interactions through a parent’s ability to mentalize. First, higher ACEs were significantly related to lower parental mentalizing (a = .206, p < .001), and lower parental mentalizing was significantly related to more parent/child dysfunctional interactions (b = 7.42, p < .001). A 95% bias-corrected confidence interval based on 10,000 bootstrap samples indicated that the indirect effect (ab = 1.53) was entirely above zero (.624 to 2.84) and therefore statistically significant. Once the mediator (parent mentalizing) was added, parent ACEs no longer predicted parent/child dysfunctional interactions (c = 1.10, p = .09). This means relationship between foster parent ACEs and parent/child dysfunctional interactions was completely mediated by parental mentalization.
Conclusions and Implications: From these results, we can infer that for foster parents with a history of childhood trauma, stress around parent/child dysfunctional interactions can be regulated via their ability to mentalize. Thus, a parent can have a high number of ACEs, but if their mentalizing skills are good, then this significantly lowers the chances of having such distressful interactions. These results support the use of parenting interventions that increase mentalizing skills for foster parents who have a history of childhood trauma, as it has the potential to increase their parental resilience and capacity to regulate relational stress that often accompanies foster children who have been through trauma, abuse or neglect. This has the potential to positively impact both foster child wellbeing and placement stability.