Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Depression and Child Outcomes: The Mediating Effects of Abuse and Neglect

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parental Depression and Child Outcomes: The Mediating Effects of Abuse and Neglect

Article excerpt

Using longitudinal data on 1,813 children and parents from a nationally representative child-welfare sample, National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), this study investigated physically abusive and neglectful parenting as mediating the effects of parent depression on child mental health by developmental stage. Findings from latent growth models indicated that parental depression had a significant impact on child outcomes for all youths, but of the 2 types of parenting behaviors, only neglectful parenting mediated the relationship for preschool and school-aged children. Neither parenting behavior mediated the effects of parental depression for adolescents.

Key Words: child functioning, child welfare, maltreatment, neglect, parental depression, physical abuse.

Parental depression has been associated with emotional and behavioral problems for children and adolescents, both in community and in clinical populations (National Research Council [NRC] & Institute of Medicine [IOM], 2009). The literature documenting impact is relatively consistent - parental depression has been negatively associated with a range of outcomes for children from infancy to adolescence, with an impact robust to measurement issues (i.e., diagnosis vs. elevated symptoms) (Goodman & Gotlib, 2002; Jaser, Langrock et al., 2005). Research has suggested that some parents may be more likely to experience depression and recurrence of depression (Kessler, Berglund et al., 2005). Among these, parents involved with child welfare have had particularly high rates of depression, with nearly half reporting depression during a 3-year period (Burns, Mustillo et al., 2009).

In 2007, nearly 3.5 million youths and their parents in the United States were child-welfare involved (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2009). Child-welfareinvolved children and adolescents constitute a particularly vulnerable population (Burns, Phillips et al., 2004). These youths have exceptionally high rates of physical and mental health needs, a low likelihood of receiving services, and a high prevalence of parent- and family-level risk factors, including poverty, parental mental illness, and single parenting (Leslie et al., 2005). In a recently published summary report of parental depression by the NRC and IOM (2009), the authors stated, "Few opportunities exist to identify vulnerable populations of children . . . living in households with one or more parents experiencing depression or to offer prevention and treatment services that can improve the care of the depressed parent in a framework that also offers services for children' ' (pp. 1-2). Involvement with child welfare presents a unique window for intervening with at-risk youths and their families, yet limited research has focused on parental depression in this population.

Prevalence of Depression

General population. Research has consistently documented the high prevalence of depression, compared with other mental health disorders, among adults (16.6% lifetime; 6.7% in previous 12 months) (Kessler, Berglund et al., 2005), with 80% of depressed adults experiencing recurrence (Burcusa & Iacono, 2007). Women and individuals facing economic or other stressors (e.g., discrimination, marital conflict) have the highest rates of depression (Matheson et al., 2006). Women are both more likely to experience depression and more likely to experience recurrence (Burcusa & Iacono, 2007). Primary caregivers involved with child welfare constitute a population at high risk, as they are more likely to be women and to be experiencing stressors associated with high rates of depression.

Child-welfare population. Mothers involved with child welfare are more likely to have a diagnosis of depression than any other mental health problem (Wolfe, 1999). In a recent examination of prevalence using the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), a nationally representative sample of children involved with child welfare, nearly half of all parents (most of whom were mothers) reported major depression at some point during the 36 months following a childwelfare report (Burns, Mustillo et al. …

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