Methods: Data were drawn from Panel Study of Income Dynamics and its Child Development Supplement survey. The analytic sample comprises 783 children who aged 3-7 at enrollment with consistent primary caregivers completed focal measures in each interview. Child internalizing and externalizing behavior problems were measured separately using corresponding items from the Behavior Problems Index. Housing instability was operationalized as the percentage of potential housing issues experience by the family across waves of PSID core surveys administered within a specific child development stage. Primary caregiver’s mental health was made up of three measures of psychological distress, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Parenting skills was generated from three measures on aggravation in parenting, parenting warmth, and household interaction. Latent growth modeling was used to identify the change trajectory from child’s early childhood to adolescence in each study variable as well as examining the structural relationships between the changes in these variables.
Results: The results showed that housing instability happened at child’s early childhood was directly associated with neither child behavior problems at the same period or developmental patterns of child behaviors from early childhood to adolescence, but the adverse influence of housing instability on child behavioral development took effect through the mediating effect of primary caregiver’s mental health and parenting skills during child’s early childhood. Specifically, greater housing instability predicted a higher initial level of primary caregiver’s mental health issues, which, in turn, led to a lower level of parenting skills at child’s early childhood, thus resulting in a greater increase in child internalizing problems and lower decrease in child externalizing problems from early childhood to adolescence.
Conclusions and Implications: This study is one of the first attempts to apply a theoretical framework integrating family stress model and life course perspective to explore the mediating roles of primary caregiver’s mental health and parenting skills in the relationship between housing instability and child behavior problems. It suggests strengthening housing-first policies and services that aim at helping people move from emergency/transitional housing status to stable housing in the first place. Meanwhile, it is necessary to improve primary caregiver’s mental health and parenting skills as early as possible to prevent the adverse influence of housing instability on the trajectories of child behavioral development.