Abstract: Parenting Strengths and Distress Among Black Mothers Reported to the Child Welfare System: The Role of Social Network Quality (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

239P Parenting Strengths and Distress Among Black Mothers Reported to the Child Welfare System: The Role of Social Network Quality

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Abigail Williams-Butler, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Kristen Slack, PhD, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Reiko Boyd, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Introduction: Few empirical studies have centered the experiences of Black mothers and their unique struggles related to disproportionate child welfare system involvement, despite poor Black women, children, and families being disproportionately represented within the child welfare system. This study makes a significant contribution to the literature as it uses quantitative data from a large, randomized control trial involving child welfare system-investigated families to examine associations between supportive versus toxic social networks of Black mothers’ and parenting outcomes. This study contributes significantly to the literature that seeks to understand the experiences of marginalized racial and ethnic groups within the child welfare system, emphasizing the racialized, gendered, and class-based oppression that Black women face in relation to the child welfare system.

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.