Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

Accelerating Recovery from Poverty: Prevention Effects for Recently Separated Mothers

Academic journal article The Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention

Accelerating Recovery from Poverty: Prevention Effects for Recently Separated Mothers

Article excerpt

In the last decade, approximately 16% of children in the United States under the age of 18 lived in poverty, although about 40% of children in households headed by single women lived below poverty levels (U. S. Census Bureau, 2002). Longitudinal studies have consistently found strong associations between poverty and adjustment problems for children and their parents (Duncan, Brooks-Gunn, & Klebanov, 1994; Hernandez, 1997; McLoyd, 1998). The adverse outcomes for children include a high prevalence of emotional and behavior problems, and deficits in cognitive functioning, academic performance, and physical health. For their parents, poverty is associated with low levels of education, unemployment or low-wage employment, stress, mental health problems, and ineffective parenting practices--all conditions that are particularly common in single-mother families. This complex network of poverty concomitants makes it difficult to identify mechanisms that entrap parents in poverty and to understand how poverty transmits its negative effects to children.

Intervention programs have been successful in populations disadvantaged because of poverty (Huston et al., 2001; Salkind & Haskins, 1982), and in populations at risk because of factors that accompany poverty, including low birth weight (Brooks-Gunn, McCormick, Shapiro, Benasich, & Black, 1994), teen or unmarried pregnancy (Olds et al., 1997), living in high-crime neighborhoods (Reid, Eddy, Fetrow, & Stoolmiller, 1999), and marital disruption (Forgatch & DeGarmo, 1999, 2002). Effective intervention strategies included providing financial aid to families (Huston et al., 2001), enriching children's early educational experiences (Ramey, Bryant, & Suarez, 1983), educating parents through home visits (Olds et al., 1997), providing parent education in groups (Forgatch & DeGarmo, 1999; Martinez & Forgatch, 2001), and offering combinations of these methods (Brooks-Gunn et al., 1994; Reid et al. , 1999; Wolchik et al., 2000). Demonstrating intervention efficacy, however, does not necessarily clarify pathways that may mediate environmental factors and pathology (Rutter, Pickles, Murray, & Eaves, 2001). The problem is that most interventions have multiple actions, many of which are not the mechanisms themselves. To demonstrate causal status, a theory-based intervention must produce changes in specified mechanisms, and those changes must produce the hypothesized changes in outcomes when evaluated with appropriate statistical procedures (Coie et al., 1993). The Oregon Divorce Study (ODS) is one of the few programs to have achieved this level of theory evaluation in family research for child outcomes (Rutter et al. , 2001). In the present study, we attempt similar theory testing for maternal outcomes related to poverty.

The ODS consisted of two longitudinal investigations, each with independent samples of approximately 200 recently separated single mothers with elementary-school-aged sons (Forgatch & DeGarmo, 2002; Patterson & Forgatch, 1990). The samples were restricted to mothers with young sons because boys are more likely than girls to exhibit adverse effects of divorce as preadolescents (Shaw, Emery, & Tuer, 1993). The social interaction learning (SIL) model on which the ODS program was based specifies that the effect of adverse contexts on children's outcomes is mediated by disruption of parenting practices (Reid, Patterson, & Snyder, 2002). Recent marital separation was selected as a risk factor for testing the SIL model because of its well-known association with adverse environmental contexts, ineffective parenting practices, and adjustment problems for parents and children (Anderson, Hetherington, & Clingempeel, 1989). Families in the midst of the separation process make an ideal population in which to test the SIL model because there are disruptions in all three domains of the model (i.e., environment, family process, and adjustment). …

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