More than one in ten U.S. families lives in poverty, including 30% of single-mother families and 20% of children. Extensive research has detailed poverty?s negative consequences for low-income families across several life domains including education, employment, health, and parenting skills. To combat poverty and its effects, scholars have long recognized the importance of social capital for parenting and child outcomes. Little research, however, has measured social capital longitudinally or considered the potential detriment of unstable support on parenting and child wellbeing. Moreover, limited social capital in disadvantaged environments can create, rather than alleviate, stress and burden. However, no known study considers the potential contribution of informal burden and its influence on informal support, parenting, and child outcomes. The overall goal of the proposed project is to determine how social safety nets, defined as perceptions of informal support and burden, evolve over the course of early childhood and the influence of safety nets on parenting and child outcomes. Specifically, the study aims to: (1) Identify the functionality of, and changes in, informal support, informal burden, and a combined measure of both, termed informal safety nets, (2) Test the role of informal safety nets in predicting parenting stress over time, and (3) Determine the extent to which informal safety net trajectories and parenting practices interact to influence children?s cognitive and behavioral outcome trajectories. The study will use a longitudinal dataset of low-income, urban mothers with young children (i.e., the Welfare, Children, Families dataset), ideal given its design to examine how low-income mothers and their children survive without a public cash safety net. Analyses will utilize advanced statistical longitudinal modeling (e.g., multilevel models of change with reversed, time-lagged, time-varying covariates) to provide stronger evidence of causal pathways not determined in current research. Innovation and Impact: This project is significant because findings may provide impetus to prioritize effective peer social support interventions and promote policies that prioritize community building while providing need-based, welfare services to low-income mothers and families. This is important because current practice and policy often ignores informal support and its consequences. The project offers conceptual innovation by quantifying the consequences of both informal support and burden. It is methodologically innovative by utilizing advanced modeling to improve the accuracy and precision of the results to significantly advance knowledge by overcoming the limitations of extant cross-sectional research. Results have the capacity to provide evidence to significantly inform welfare policy and practice with low-income families. By identifying ways in which informal support changes over time and influences parenting and child outcomes, findings can provide empirical evidence for stronger public safety net programs in order to buffer the effects of poverty when self-reliant families have nowhere else to turn.
Extensive literature documents that informal support is crucial for parent and child outcomes across multiple domains including positive maternal parenting practices, cognitive development, behavior, and health. Yet, few, if any, studies have measured constructs longitudinally or measured informal burden to consider the potential detriment of unstable support or demands on parenting stress and child wellbeing. The proposed study will address this gap through its 3 interrelated aims: (1) Identify the functionality of, and changes in, informal support, informal burden, and a combined measure of both, termed informal safety nets; (2) Test the role of informal safety nets in predicting parenting stress over time; and (3) Determine the extent to which informal safety net trajectories and parenting practices interact to influence children?s cognitive and behavioral outcome trajectories.