Academic journal article Family Relations

Parenting Attitudes, Family Environments, Depression, and Anxiety in Caregivers of Maltreated Children

Academic journal article Family Relations

Parenting Attitudes, Family Environments, Depression, and Anxiety in Caregivers of Maltreated Children

Article excerpt

This study evaluated parenting attitudes, family environments, depression, and anxiety in a sample of primarily minority urban mothers to better understand maltreating mothers (n = 83), who retain custody of their children and how they are similar to and different from foster mothers (n = 50), kin caregivers (n = 52) of maltreated children, and comparison mothers (n = 100) from the same communities. Maltreating mothers were distinguished by their much higher levels of depression and anxiety from other mothers. In addition, like foster mothers, maltreating mothers were less likely to approve of corporal punishment. Foster mothers were higher in organization and lower in empathy than other groups. There were no differences by race/ethnicity on study dimensions. Higher education, however, was related to more favorable parenting attitudes and family environments. Practice implications related to appropriate services are suggested.

Key Words: child abuse and neglect, maltreating parents, parenting attitudes.

Child maltreatment is one of the most serious social problems affecting children and their families. The child welfare system is charged with the responsibility of making decisions on how to handle cases reported to authorities. With the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1 997, there has been a shift from placing children in nonrelative foster care to keeping children with their maltreating parents or, if this is not possible, placing them with relatives (Allen & Bissell, 2004). The latest statistics available in 2009 indicate that of 753,357 reported victims of maltreatment in 2007, only 20.7% of them were removed to out of home care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009a). Of the children in foster care in 2008, 24% were living in relative care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009b).

This reliance on in-home or relative care demands that we know more about these caregivers. The purpose of this study was to learn more about the levels of depression, anxiety, parenting attitudes, and characteristics of family environments in a sample of maltreating mothers after maltreatment has occurred and to determine how these characteristics are similar to or different from foster mothers and kin caregivers of maltreated children and nonmaltreating comparison mothers in the same communities. Understanding more about the mothers who care for maltreated children will offer insights that can aid in developing interventions that will create better outcomes for the mothers and their children.

The etiology of child maltreatment is complex and related to characteristics of the parents and children, the surrounding ecology, the situation in time, and social factors, among other things (Belsky, 1993; Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Cicchetti & Toth, 1995). The retrospective nature of this study does not allow us to try to determine the reasons these mothers maltreated their children but it can allow us to get a better picture of their current functioning as they seek to continue to parent after maltreatment.


There have been many studies over the years that have looked at maltreating parents to discover the attributes that distinguish them from those who do not maltreat their children. Those studies have focused primarily on parenting attitudes and practices, psychological functioning, and family environment. The participants in these studies were either exclusively or primarily women. Trickett and Susman (1988), in a study on physically abusive mothers and a demographically similar comparison group of mothers, found that the abusive mothers were less satisfied with their children, found parenting more difficult, and, as measured by the Family Environment Scale (FES), were higher in conflict and expressed less positive emotion. Wiehe (2003) compared a sample of parents who were physically and emotionally abusive (74% women) with a sample of foster parents (over 84% women) from the same agency on measures of empathy and narcissism and found that the abusive mothers had less selfconfidence, had poorer impulse control, were more narcissistic, and were less empathie than the foster mothers. …

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