Changes in parenting and mental health among mothers in Early Head Start
Berkule, Samantha Brooke
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This study examined maternal mental health and dimensions of mother-child interaction in 46 low-income, Latino mothers who participated in a relationship-based Early Head Start (EHS) program with their infants and toddlers over the course of 11/2 years. Children were approximately 1-year-old at enrollment in EHS and the beginning of the study, and were approximately 2.5 years of age at the conclusion of the study. Observed dimensions of parenting behaviors were assessed during structured play interactions of mothers with their children. Maternal depressive symptoms were measured using the Center for Epidemiological Studies - Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977). Parental stress and depression, and perceptions about social support were collected during self-report interview measures, using the Short Form of the Parenting Stress Index (PSI-SF; Abidin, 1986) and the Vaux Social Support Record (SSR; Vaux, 1985) respectively. Observational play measures and interview measures were collected at the time of enrollment in EHS (baseline) and again after 18 months of participation in EHS (outcome).;Results showed significant increases in positive dimensions of parenting from enrollment to outcome, as reflected in maternal sensitivity, flexibility, autonomy support, positive affect, and significant decreases in maternal intrusiveness. In addition, changes in dimensions of mothers' positive parenting and intrusiveness during structured play with their children differed depending on the level of mental health risk of mothers at the time of enrollment in EHS, with depressed mothers showing more significant decreases in intrusiveness. In addition, after 18 months of participation in EHS, maternal depression and stress related to parenting were significantly reduced, and mothers reported a significant increase in the number of individuals who gave them advice.;Despite a lack of detailed information concerning participants' attendance of EHS and utilization of its services, and a small participant sample size, these results are noteworthy. These findings highlight the importance of offering relationship-based interventions in order to improve parenting behaviors. These findings also illuminate the importance of screening mothers for depression, as well as offering mental health services and prevention models which address mental health issues, within the context of relationships.