Methods: This study used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), a longitudinal birth cohort study of children born in 1998-2000 across 20 U.S. cities. The final analysis sample included 1,865 mothers and their children. Mothers’ exposure to community violence (i.e., victimization and witnessing) at age 3 was assessed using a 7-item 5-point Likert scale. Maternal parenting stress at age 5 was measured using a 4-item 4-point Likert scale adapted from the Parenting Stress Index. Child maltreatment at age 5 was assessed with two subscales from the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scales (CTSPC): mothers’ self-reported acts of psychological aggression (5 items) and physical assault (5 items). Child’s gender, mother’s race/ethnicity, mother’s education, mother’s age, marital status, and household poverty were included as covariates. All research questions were examined through findings from path analyses conducted using Mplus v.8.6.
Results: The path model had a good overall fit: CFI= .95, RMSEA= .04 (90% CI= .030-.055), and SRMR = .02. Mothers’ exposure to community violence was significantly associated with child psychological aggression (β = .061, p < .05) and child physical assault (β = .062, p < .05). As hypothesized, maternal parenting stress partially mediated the associations between community violence exposure and child psychological aggression (indirect effect: β=.014, p <.01), and child physical assault (indirect effect: β=.009, p <.01), respectively. Increased exposure to community violence was associated with higher levels of maternal parenting stress, which in turn was associated with increased risk for child maltreatment.
Conclusions and Implications: This study provides evidence of the direct effect of mothers’ exposure to community violence on child maltreatment, and the indirect effect of maternal parenting stress on these associations. These findings suggest the need for community and neighborhood-level interventions to reduce and prevent community violence. Additionally, interventions for caregivers who witness or are victims of community violence are needed to minimize their parenting stress and prevent child maltreatment.