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10-02-2021 | Original Paper | Uitgave 3/2021

Journal of Child and Family Studies 3/2021

Safety Nets, Maternal Mental Health, and Child Mental Health Outcomes among Mothers Living in Poverty

Tijdschrift:
Journal of Child and Family Studies > Uitgave 3/2021
Auteurs:
Melissa Radey, Lenore M. McWey
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Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Abstract

Of the 40 million people living in poverty in the U.S., approximately 28% are single mothers and 18% are children. Low family income is linked with negative outcomes including higher rates of child mental health concerns. Due to limited public benefit availability, mothers often must rely on informal safety nets, or support from family or friends, to make ends meet. However, these informal safety nets are often coupled with burden, or obligations. To further increase their vulnerability, mothers living in poverty face higher levels of poor mental health. Also, both maternal mental health and safety nets can change over time. The purpose of this study was to examine informal safety nets, including informal support and burden, and maternal mental health and their longitudinal effects on mental health symptoms of children living in low-income families. Relying on data from the Welfare, Children, Families project, descriptive results showed change in informal safety nets, maternal mental health, and child mental health over time, with decline or multiple changes more common than improvement. Multilevel change models indicated safety nets and maternal mental health were associated with child outcomes such that mothers with minimal safety nets, higher psychological distress, and higher parenting stress had children with significantly higher mental health symptoms compared to children whose mothers had healthy safety nets and less distress. Findings speak to the importance of interventions that target both mothers and children in low-income families.

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