Abstract: Intimate Partner Violence and Early Child Care (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Intimate Partner Violence and Early Child Care

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Paradise Valley, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Juliann Nicholson, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Boston University, Boston, MA
Yoonsook Ha, PhD, MSSW, Associate Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Ellen DeVoe, PhD, LICSW, Professor, Boston University, Boston, MA
Background and Purpose: Research shows links between children’s early exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) and adverse child outcomes. Although potential benefits of quality child care closely align with key protective factors for young children exposed to IPV, there is a striking lack of research examining the influences of IPV on children’s early care arrangements, or the influences of different child care arrangements on children exposed to IPV.

Methods: This study uses a mixed methods approach. First, using three waves of the national Fragile Families and Child Well Being Study data, we analyze associations between children’s IPV exposure and their primary child care arrangements. The sample comprised 3,718 mother-child dyads. Using year 3 data, IPV was measured based on mothers’ self-reported experiences with any of 6 items relating to physical, sexual, economic, and psychological abuse. Child care arrangement was measured as a categorical variable representing parental, informal home-based, formal home-based, and center-based care. Multinomial logistic regression was used to assess the relationships between IPV and child care arrangements, adjusting for covariates. Second, we collected and analyzed qualitative data from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 10 professionals whose expertise related to early childhood education, early childhood trauma and mental health, and IPV, to understand the possible influences of IPV on survivor mothers’ child care use and engagement and their children’s well-being.

Results: Children’s IPV exposure at year 3 was associated with a higher likelihood of non-parental care involvement--both formal (b=0.37, SE=0.09) and informal (b=0.22, SE=0.10) care--compared to parental care. Themes that emerged from key informant interviews included 1) barriers to survivor mothers’ use of formal child care, including their abusive partners’ influence and interference, and mothers’ concerns about privacy and mandated reporting, 2) distinctive benefits of home-based child care for children exposed to IPV, including lower child-provider ratios, and facilitation of long-term bonds with safe adults, and 3) distinctive benefits of center-based care, including more structure, and teachers’ higher likelihood of having trauma training and education. Qualitative findings also elucidated mechanisms by which child care may serve as a protective influence for young children exposed to IPV, including reduced violence exposure, trauma-responsive caregiving, and structured routines, as well as circumstances in which formal child care might cause further harm (e.g., when centers are under-resourced and children receive insufficient attention, or when centers are quick to expel children based on behavioral challenges).

Conclusions and Implications: Results indicate that children exposed to IPV may be more likely to engage in non-parental care, compared to parental care. Qualitative findings offer important insights into survival mothers’ access and use of child care, and the experiences of their children in these care settings. Taken together, this knowledge can support child care providers in their work with families experiencing IPV. Findings also offer implications for policymakers and social workers. Given the unique challenges that survivor mothers and their children may face, efforts should be made to facilitate their access to care and to meet the unique needs of children exposed to IPV within care settings.