• November 2018
  • Vol. 19, No. 9

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Effects on Toddler Self-Regulation in Child Welfare Services-Involved Families

Parents involved with child welfare for possible abuse or neglect of their children often have a history of adverse childhood experiences as well as high rates of depression and other characteristics that may affect their parenting abilities. A recent article in Infant Mental Health Journal focuses on parental depression and its effects on their parenting abilities as well as their children's ability to develop self-regulation, which includes the ability to focus attention; control emotions; and manage thinking, behavior, and feelings.

Researchers used a sample of 247 child welfare-involved families from the Supporting Parents Program. Participating families had toddlers between the ages of 10 and 24 months between January 2011 and January 2014 and were monitored by one of six collaborating child protective services offices within the prior 2 weeks.

The study examined the combined and mediated effects of parental adverse childhood experiences and depressive symptoms on parenting quality at three time points (T1, T2, and T3) during a 6-month period. During T1, toddlers and their parents were assessed during 2-hour home visits. Visits consisted of an interview; videotaped parent-child interactions, including a teaching task; free play; and a brief separation. T2, which occurred after an average of 3.83 months, was the first follow-up assessment. T3, which occurred after an average of 3.2 months after T2, was the third follow-up visit. 

Findings from the study include the following:

  • Sixty percent of the parents reported experiencing at least one type of adverse experience during their childhood and showed elevated depressive symptoms.
  • Parental depression had mostly negative associations with child secure base behavior. A secure base refers to a positive, supportive, and nurturing relationship that helps children feel secure during times of distress. Parental sensitivity to distress was positively associated with secure base behavior in children.
  • The association between parental depression and child secure base behavior was mediated by parenting sensitivity to distress cues but not sensitivity to nondistress.
  • During the research visit, the parent was usually forced to split his or her attention between the interviewer and the toddler, which limited the child's access to the parent and caused the child frustration. This showed that child emotional regulation and secure base behavior were more strongly correlated than were emotional regulation and orientation or engagement.

"Parental Childhood Adversity, Depressive Symptoms, and Parenting Quality: Effects on Toddler Self-Regulation in Child Welfare Services-Involved Families," by Susan J. Spieker, Monica L. Oxford, Charles B. Fleming, and Mary Jane Lohr (Infant Mental Health Journal, 39), is available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5812360/pdf/nihms941100.pdf (765 KB).

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