Academic journal article Family Relations

Assessment of Family Stress across Low-, Medium-, and High-Risk Samples Using the Family Events Checklist

Academic journal article Family Relations

Assessment of Family Stress across Low-, Medium-, and High-Risk Samples Using the Family Events Checklist

Article excerpt

Assessment of Family Stress Across Low-, Medium-, and High-Risk Samples Using the Family Events Checklist*

Philip A. Fisher,** Beverly I. Fagot, and Craig S. Leve

This study examines family stress across normative, moderate risk, and high-risk samples. A 3-factor model of family stress-including interpersonal tension, financial problems, and child-related difficulties-was developed using confirmatory factor analysis. Factor scores were computed across four samples considered to be at varying degrees of risk for family stress. Analyses of these scores revealed consistent differences across samples in levels of family stress, with higher stress in higher-risk samples. Results are discussed and implications for intervention and prevention are considered.

Key Words: children and families, family events checklist, family stress, life events and stress, psychosocial, stress.

In this paper, we examine the issue of stress within families. The particular focus is on the development of scales measuring different components of family stress from a single "daily hassles" questionnaire, the Family Events Checklist (FEC; Oregon Social Learning Center, 1985). We then examine the extent to which levels of stress vary across low- to high-risk samples. We begin with a review of relevant past research on family stress.

Models that specify risk and protective factors have become increasingly popular in research on the psychosocial functioning of children and families (Garmezy & Rutter, 1983; Haggerty, Sherrod, Garmezy, & Rutter, 1994). With considerable variability in risks, as well as protective factors, there are also differences in the ways in which both are related to outcome. In some cases the factors are conceptualized as being additive in nature (Rutter, Tizard, & Whitmore, 1970), while in others, more complex interrelations, such as mediator and moderator effects, are described (Shaw & Bell, 1993).

Despite these specifics, there is a certain conceptual unity in these models, which may be found in terms of a set of factors common to many models and intuitive in the manner in which they connote risk or protection. For instance, socioeconomic status has been found to impact family functioning at many levels, in particular, psychological well-being of the parents and the discipline practices they employ. In turn, these parent variables are related to the development of prosocial and antisocial behavior in children (Huston, McLoyd, & Garcia Coll, 1997). While some may argue that socioeconomic status itself, as well as parenting traits, are influenced by genetic traits, Rowe and Rodgers (1997) and Huston et al. (1997) note that behavioral genetics models in general have not measured the environment directly and that using well measured environmental models is important because they may help prevention and intervention science move toward a more focused set of priorities which are malleable. In the long run, they may actually have an impact on the growing incidence of antisocial behavior in this country.

One risk factor intuitive in its appeal and often included in developmental models of antisocial behavior is family stress. The concept is based in the long tradition of basic research on the effects of stress on performance (Selye, 1978). The presence of stress in families increases irritability, and makes it difficult for family members to access coping resources or to attend to necessary aspects of the environment. Family stress may have a direct effect on antisocial behavior because of the irritability/anger associated with it, as well as an indirect effect because of the extent to which it disrupts both parenting practices and positive family interaction.

Researchers interested in the role of family stress on functioning have traditionally utilized a variety of assessment options. One approach-to assess family stress in a global manner by asking research participants to describe their subjective stress level as it relates to their family-is the approach taken in the Family Environment Scale (Moos & Moos, 1983). …

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