A Longitudinal Examination of Parental Adversity, Parenting Stress and Parenting Capacities of African-American and Latina Mothers and their Children’s Wellbeing
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Adversities in childhood pose significant jeopardy of poor early life outcomes that can have lasting consequences, compromising future wellbeing of young children. Childhood exposures to extremely stressful experiences including multiple forms of adversities such as child maltreatment, poverty, family instability, violence at home and parent criminal and substance abuse histories become potential pathways to negative social and emotional outcomes. This dissertation uses a two-generation approach to build upon the mounting evidence on adverse childhood experiences and generate evidence regarding intergenerational adversity and its impact on parental capacities and early childhood socio-emotional health. This approach considers the nested nature of the parent-child relationship and focuses on further disentangling intergenerational processes of adversity accumulation and their impact on both generations. Using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing data (N=4,898), a birth-cohort longitudinal study of mostly low-income children and their parents, the first paper examined parental adversity and its proximal consequences during critical periods of development in early childhood and tested variations between African-American, Latino, and white mothers. Findings showed intergenerational associations between parental adversity and childhood socio-emotional health at ages 1 and 5, underscoring the possibility of early detection of adversity’s effects early in the life course. The second paper used structural equation modeling to test the cumulative effects of adversity on parenting stress and parenting practices and whether they serve as mechanisms through which adversity impacts child socio-emotional outcomes. Results revealed early associations between parental adversity and parenting stress, parenting practices, and childhood socio-emotional health. Parenting stress and parenting practices as mechanisms of parental adversity were significant only for African-Americans. The third paper tested the protective role of informal supports in buffering adversity’s negative impact on parental capacities and childhood socio-emotional wellbeing and compared the results across racial/ethnic groups. Findings supported the hypothesized links, including the attenuating effect of social support, but not for Latino mothers. This dissertation extends the robust evidence regarding the long-reaching effects of early exposures of children to the adversities of their parents as this study traces the empirically established life course associations back to early life, when the effects of adversity may just begin to manifest. It contributes new evidence regarding adversity’s proximal effects and the intergenerational pathways that link it to early childhood socio-emotional health.
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