Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Child-Care Instability and Behavior Problems: Does Parenting Stress Mediate the Relationship?

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Child-Care Instability and Behavior Problems: Does Parenting Stress Mediate the Relationship?

Article excerpt

Arranging nonparental care for children is a key aspect of modern parenting. The challenge of finding and maintaining affordable child care, which accommodates parents' child-care preferences within various family and employment constraints, can lead parents to rely on multiple, concurrent providers (e.g., Gordon, Colaner, Usdansky, & Melgar, 2013; Morrissey, 2008) or to make frequent changes in providers as family and employment circumstances change (e.g., Davis, Carlin, Krafft, & Tout, 2014; Scott & Abelson, 2016). Single parents and those with low socioeconomic resources in particular face significant challenges in attaining stable care in the context of limited resources and low-wage employment (e.g., Henly & Lambert, 2005).

Prior research has consistently found that different types of child-care instability-including changes in arrangements over time and experiencing multiple, concurrent arrangements-are associated with higher levels of behavior problems in young children of varying backgrounds (e.g., Claessens & Chen, 2013; Morrissey, 2009; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 1998; Pilarz & Hill, 2014). These associations between child-care instability and child behavior may be partially explained by the effects of instability on parents. Managing complex and changing child-care arrangements is likely to increase parenting stress, which has been shown to influence child behavior (e.g., Crnic, Gaze, & Hoffman, 2005). Yet despite the presumed importance of parenting stress as a mediator of these relationships, we know little from prior research about whether child-care instability is related to parenting stress and, in turn, whether this relationship helps explain the effects of instability on child behavior.

This study contributes to the existing literature by empirically testing parenting stress as a mediator of the relationships between child-care instability and child behavior problems using data from a birth cohort study of children born to predominantly unmarried parents in urban areas, the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS). Structural equation modeling was used to predict child behavior problems at age 5 as a function of maternal parenting stress at age 3 and child-care instability experienced between ages 1 to 3, controlling first for a large set of child and family characteristics and then also adjusting for prior parenting stress levels. We also examined whether family structure and socioeconomic resources moderate the associations between child-care instability, parenting stress, and child behavior.

Background

Instability in nonparental care arrangements is a common experience for many young children. Prior research has identified the following three key types of care instability: long-term instability, multiplicity, and needing to use back-up arrangements (De Schipper, Tavecchio, Van IJzendoorn, & Linting, 2003; Morrissey, 2009; Pilarz & Hill, 2014; Tran & Weinraub, 2006). Long-term instability refers to sequential changes in nonparental care providers during a period of time, such as a move from one care setting to another. Prior studies suggest that at least 40% to 50% of children experience a provider change by the age of 3 years (Bratsch-Hines, Mokrova, Vernon-Feagans, & The Family Life Project Key Investigators, 2015; Pilarz & Hill, 2014; Tran & Weinraub, 2006). Multiplicity occurs when a child experiences two or more concurrent providers within a single day or week at a point in time. Prior studies have found the prevalence of multiplicity increases with child age, with about 5% to 9% of children experiencing multiplicity at the age of 1 year to 13% to 14% at age 3 (Morrissey, 2009; Pilarz & Hill, 2014). In one study, needing to use back-up arrangements-as a result of the child's usual provider becoming temporarily unavailable because of illness, holiday, or vacation-occurred in 29% of the sample (Pilarz & Hill, 2014). …

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