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.