Abstract: How Neighborhoods Can Promote Early Childhood Flourishing Among Families of Single Mothers (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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586P How Neighborhoods Can Promote Early Childhood Flourishing Among Families of Single Mothers

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Samantha Schneider, PhD, Adjunct Faculty/Clinical Practitioner, Simmons College, Boston, MA
Sheila Barnhart, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Aubrey Jones, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Michael Gearhart, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Missouri-Saint Louis, MO
Background: Caregiver engagement is pivotal in early childhood for health and development. Preschool children are strongly influenced by their caregiver’s warmth and attention. Single mothers face the greatest hardships of all family compositions, adding multiple risks for their parent-child relationship due to the additional economic stress and less social support available to them. Yet, many single mothers persevere through these hardships, warranting strengths-based research that aims to investigate the promotive factors that advantage their well-being and that of their children. Cohesive neighborhoods have been linked with positive outcomes for families with single mothers, yet to the best of our knowledge, no prior research has investigated the complex interplay between single mothers’ perceptions of cohesive neighborhoods, parental aggravation, parental engagement, and flourishing in young children.

Method: Using data from the 2018 and 2019 National Survey of Children’s Health study, we examined neighborhood social cohesion for direct associations to child flourishing and indirect associations via parenting stress and parental engagement, among an analytic sample of 1159 single mothers with preschool children (aged 3-5). Independent Variable: Neighborhood social cohesion was assessed by 4 items on a 4-point scale assessing caregivers’ perceptions of neighborhood safety and support (e.g. People in neighborhood help each other out). Mediating Variables: parenting engagement was assessed by 2 items on a 3-point scale gauging the frequency of caregivers’ interactions with their children (e.g. Family reads to children), parenting aggravation was assessed by 3 items on a 3-point scale assessing difficulty with raising children (e.g. Child is hard to care for) in which higher scores represented lower levels of aggravation. Dependent variable: child flourishing was assessed by 4 items on a 3 point scale assessing caregivers’ perceptions of their child’s behavioral thriving (e.g. child is affectionate and tender with parent). Structural equation modeling was employed using the weighted least squares means and variance estimator d to test the direct and indirect effects and account for the ordinal items.

Results. The SEM model fit indices demonstrated acceptable fit (χ2df= 59= 232.315 [p<.001], RMSEA= 0.050 [CI: 0.044 0.057], CFI= 0.978, TLI= 0.971, SRMR= 0.045). All factor loadings in the measurement model were statistically significant (p< .001). As expected, higher levels of neighborhood cohesion were directly associated with higher levels of child flourishing (β=0.141, p=0.005), and higher levels of parenting engagement (β=0.178, p<0.001) and lower levels of parental aggravation (β=0.148, p=<0.001), which were subsequently associated with higher levels of child flourishing (β=0.142, p=0.009 and β=0.644, p<0.001, respectively); indirect effects were statistically significant (p<0.05).

Discussion. While single mothers can face multiple economic and social challenges in child-rearing compared to their married peers, our research supports that cohesive neighborhoods can be a promotive factor that support flourishing in young children by its association with lower parental aggravation and higher parental engagement. Typically, supports for single parent households focus on the family as an individual unit. Our findings highlight the importance of leveraging the strengths of families and the community to increase social cohesion and by extension improve child outcomes.