Methods: Our sample is drawn from the Wisconsin Families Study, a randomized control trial designed to evaluate a child maltreatment prevention program in Milwaukee County. Sample members all experienced a child maltreatment investigation, but their child welfare cases were closed at this point. Data are from a baseline (i.e., pre-randomization) survey for the subgroup of respondents who identified as Black or African American mothers (N=433). The average age of the mothers was 33, with the average age of their child being 8.8 years old. The mean annual income for each participant was slightly more than $15,000 annually. Key predictor variables included supportive social networks and toxic aspects of social networks. Outcome variables included parental resilience, parental emotional competence, and parental distress. Ordinary least-squares regression was used to predict each parenting scale. We controlled for a range of demographic, household, and intimate partner relationship factors.
Results: Respondents generally reported supportive social networks (4.29 on a 5-point scale) and lower levels of network toxicity (2.27 on a 5-piont scale). Supportive social networks were associated with greater parenting strengths (resilience and emotional competence, effect sizes of .11 and .09, respectively) and lower levels of parenting distress (effect size of -.14). Conversely, toxic social networks were associated with reductions in parenting strengths (specifically, resilience) and increased parenting distress (effects sizes of -.04 and .17, respectively). Finally, high levels of support moderated the association between more toxic social networks and parental resilience, and the combination of high support and low toxicity in one’s network was associated with more positive parenting outcomes across the board compared to those with low support and high network toxicity.
Discussion: Reported, but unsubstantiated Black mothers generally reported supportive networks with low levels of network toxicity, and supportive networks were a stronger predictor of positive parenting outcomes than toxic social networks. These findings illuminate the need for an intentional focus on strengths, both in research and in child welfare practice. Given the unique parenting context of Black motherhood in relation to the child welfare system, the findings from this study have critical implications for culturally-sensitive practices and programs designed to reduce child welfare system intervention among and elevate the strengths of Black mothers.