Effects of Stressors in the Child Welfare System
University of North Texas
Estefan, L.F., Coulter, M.L., VandeWeerd, C.L., Armstrong, M., & Gorski, P. (2012). Relationships between stressors and parenting attitudes in a child welfare parenting program. J Child Fam Stud, 22, 199-208. doi:10.1007/s10826-012-9569-1
Purpose and Hypothesis of the Study
Families affiliated with the child welfare system are often associated with a range of stressors that put children at a high risk for developmental issues. Estefan, Coulter, VandeWeerd, Armstrong, and Gorski (2012) conducted this study in order to examine the co-occurrence of family stressors in parents involved in the child welfare system who have been referred to an intensive parent training program. This study also sought to identify whether parenting outcomes differed according to whether or not partner abuse or con?ict, substance abuse, or mental health issues were identi?ed. In 2009, an estimated 702,000 children were found to be victims of maltreatment (USDHHS 2010a, b). Many parents in the child welfare system also experience issues such as partner violence, substance abuse, and mental health problems. Frequent occurrence of these issues is a signi?cant problem for the health and safety of children all over the United States and may result in serious and often life-long, adverse consequences in cognitive development. Accurate assessment of these stressors in families is critical in order to intervene effectively.
This study was established from families who participated in a 15-week, therapeutic program available for those who are involved in the child welfare system, known as the Nurturing Parents Program (NPP). The adults in the study participate as a parenting dyad which can consist of two individuals who are married, co-parenting, or familial relationship who are not in a current physical violent relationship. The sample consists of 56 fathers (biological fathers, mother’s paramours, step-fathers) and 61 mothers (biological and step-mothers). Children involved in the study ranged from six months to 18 years of age. Participants were referred several ways including the child welfare system as part of a case plan, Child Protection Investigations, risk of child welfare or diversion through other agencies, and self referral. A sub-sample of 21 program participants were part of in-depth, in-person interviews as well.
Methods and Procedures
Estefan et al. (2012) reviewed program files as the main source of data collection along with supplements from interviews with a handful of participants. The program files consisted of data such as parent and child demographic location, issues associated with stressors, mental health, substance abuse, and physical abuse and reason for referral to the child welfare system. Participants completed the AAPI-2 before and after completion of the parenting program, to provide the scale of child maltreatment risk in a household. Correlation was measured in order to observe the relationship between co-occurring risk factors in the families. T-tests were also performed to examine pre and post-test differences on the AAPI-2. Analyses were completed using IBM SPSS Statistics version 19.0 (Estefan et al., 2012).
Individuals were encouraged to participate in the interview section of the study with a $25 incentive for participation. Participants were recruited through mailed letters or brief presentations provided by the researcher. Exclusions included those under the age of 18, those who do not speak English fluently or are not comfortable interviewing in English, and those who were not involved in the child welfare system or diversion services. The interview consisted of questions revolved around the parent’s involvement in the child welfare system. Interviews were transcribed word for word and analyzed using Atlas.ti (Estefan et al., 2012).
Results and Discussion
Resulting from the study, Estefan et al. (2012) observed that parents in all sub-groups improved their parenting attitudes on each sub-scale after participation in the parenting program, though some improvements were significant and some small-scale. The paired sample t-tests for AAPI results indicated an overall significant improvement in post test scores among both fathers and mothers in all categories. Parents with mental issues, substance abuse issues, and violence issues showed a small-scale increase in post tests scores for lack of empathy, belief in corporal punishment, reversed parent-child roles, oppressing of child power and independence, and inappropriate expectations of child behavior.
Estefan et al. (2012) concluded that in general, the parents learned new skills about child and parenting behavior throughout this program. Through personal interviews and file reviews, it is indicated that many of the families experienced multiple stressors within their household. These co-occurring stressors were the main evident reason that most of the families were referred into the program.
Estefan et al. (2012) states that this study was limited in that the sample size was too small, regulating the type of analyses that could be done. They also recognized that the program files varied family to family according to the information provided, this proved difficult to abstract certain information for the study. Additionally, there is no comparison group to compare with the AAPI-2 results, limiting conclusions to only a certain group of participants who generally were more supportive over their changing parenting attitudes.
Further limitations not stated by Estefan et al. (2012) include that the information collected from the interviewees excluded those who could not fluently speak English as well as those under the age of 18 while the opinions of those excluded could greatly differ from those collected. The age of the adult participants is not listed in the study, only the median ages of both mothers and fathers are listed. The study sample was also only taken in the United States, which eliminates other cultural responses that may take place in various countries and environments. Another issue not mentioned is that this study is voluntary, which could result in invalid responses, decreasing the reliability of the results.
This study could have been improved by increasing the sample size and using a more reliable, consistent form of data collection for the interview portion of the study. Using a different form of data collection would allow all responses to be represented in the sample. Research results could also indicate that parents who experience multiple problems within their household are unlikely parent effectively, and therefore are likely to need support and intervention.
Social Application of Findings and Personal Reflection
The results of this study not only focus on those families within the child welfare system, but also my family personally. Growing up in a household controlled by substance abuse, this study highlights the risk factors associated with multiple levels of parent stressors that were likely involved in my own childhood. Because with each environment, a new culture arises, these maltreatment issues may vary from culture to culture. In society today, awareness must be brought towards victims of maltreatment, as these issues occurring within a household could put a child’s life and development at risk.