Parenting Resilience in the Context of Homelessness: Risk and Protective Factors

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Parenting Resilience in the Context of Homelessness: Risk and Protective Factors

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Homelessness among families with children has become a surprisingly common and persistent problem. Children who experience the disruptions of homelessness are at increased risk for difficulties with academic, social, emotional, and behavioral development. Decades of research on resilience suggests that effective parenting helps to mitigate the effects of adversity on child development. However, relatively little is known about factors that predict parenting quality during family homelessness. This study examined predictors of parenting quality among 138 families who were staying in three Minneapolis emergency housing shelters, with the goal of identifying distal and proximal influences on parenting in families facing homelessness. Based on transactional-ecological systems perspectives on the determinants of parenting, and research on risk and protective processes for parenting under stress, current parenting in a shelter context was expected to relate to recent and past adversity of the parent and current health and social resources. Current trauma, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in parents were expected to interfere with effective parenting. Two basic dimensions of parenting, warmth and structure, were expected to underlie observed parenting assessed by three empirically validated observational coding techniques. Factor analyses indicated two dimensions of parenting; however, these reflected a blend of warmth/structure and a distinct factor of negativity. Thus, subsequent analyses predicted parenting on each of these two dimensions, using linear methods of path analysis and multiple regression to test for predictive, mediating, and moderating effects of earlier and recent adversity, physical and mental health, and available resources on parenting quality. Also tested was the moderating influence of resources, specifically cognitive resources and social support, on the relationship between adversity, mental health, and parenting quality. Finally, a person-centered analytic approach was used to provide an integrated portrait of resilient parenting in the context of homelessness. Controlling for parent age, sex, and child behavior, parents’ adverse experiences in childhood were positive related to warmth/structure, contrary to expectations, whereas current resources, as predicted, were positively and independently associated with this aspect of effective parenting. Resources did not moderate any of these relationships. Parents classified as showing resilience in the person-focused analyses had greater cognitive, social, and emotional resources than parents classified as maladaptive. Strengths and limitations of this study are discussed in relation to future research and the goals of identifying malleable protective influences on parenting for families in challenging situations.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2015. Major: Child Psychology. Advisors: Ann Masten, Monica Luciana. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 124 pages.

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McCormick, Christopher. (2015). Parenting Resilience in the Context of Homelessness: Risk and Protective Factors. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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