Pathways between exposure to violence, maternal depression, family structury [i.e. structure] and child outcomes through parenting: A multi-group analysis
Westbrook, T'Pring R.
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Arguably one of the greatest influences on a child's development is the parenting he or she experiences. With that perspective, family stress theory posits that children in low-income families are affected by poverty-related stressors through their effect on their parents. The present study used family stress theory as a framework to study the impact of proximal (i.e., family structure, maternal depression) and distal (i.e., community violence) risk factors, or stressors, on parenting characteristics which were in turn hypothesized to impact child social-emotional functioning. Data from the FACES 2000 study of children enrolled in Head Start and their families were used to conduct the analyses. The sample consisted of 1417 African American, Latino, and White mothers of preschool children. The present study hypothesized that exposure to violence, family structure, maternal depression, and parenting styles measured at time 1 would affect child social-emotional functioning at time 2. Moreover, it was hypothesized that a SEM model wherein violence exposure, family structure, and maternal depression's influenced parenting characteristics, which then impacted the child outcome, would fit the data. Finally, it was hypothesized that these findings would be consistent across African American, Latino, and White subgroups. The data revealed that the study variables were significant predictors of the child outcome. Although few of the key variables significantly contributed to the regression models or had significant pathways in the SEM models, the cumulative effect of the variables resulted in significant models that accounted for 21-37% of the outcome. The multi-group analysis revealed that despite differences in the amount of variance explained, the causal pathways were consistent for the groups analyzed. Findings support theories such as the family stress model that suggest that poverty related stressors negatively impact children's development by first negatively impacting parenting behaviors. This pattern of influence was consistent across race/ethnicities. It may not be practical to expect practitioners to address the myriad of potential risks factors encountered by low-income families, but parents can be equipped with mental health services, parent education, and other such assistance to help them maintain positive parenting practices in the face of life's challenges.