Adverse life experiences in young children: Examining pathways of resilience in the family stress model



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An important issue associated with at risk families in the child welfare system is the impact of familial stress processes on child developmental outcomes. This two-part dissertation used the Family Stress Model (FSM) to examine the impact of economic hardship, economic pressure, caregiver emotional distress, caregiver/partner conflict, caregiver harsh parenting, and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on child cognitive, behavioral, and social outcomes. Further, this dissertation analyzed the impact of three resilience factors (child social emotional development, caregiver attachment behaviors, and social support) on the pathways between familial stress processes, ACEs and child outcomes. Data came from the National Survey on Child and Adolescent Well-being II (NSCAW II), and 1363 children (709 male; 654 female) ages two to 18 months (at wave one) were included in the current studies. Three waves of data were analyzed in the longitudinal structural equation model, with familial stress processes at wave one and two predicting child outcomes at wave three. Results were overall consistent with the FSM in that economic hardship led to economic pressure, and caregiver emotional distress and caregiver/partner conflict led to harsh parenting, which subsequently led to ACEs. ACEs led to negative child cognitive outcomes and for female children only, ACEs led to internalizing/externalizing behaviors. Child social emotional development moderated the association between caregiver/partner conflict and ACEs, and between caregiver harsh parenting and ACEs. Social support also moderated the association between caregiver harsh parenting and ACEs. Continued research on ACEs and the FSM in at risk families is needed to better understand the possible prevention of ACEs. Prevention and intervention efforts focused on specific resilience factors could serve to improve child developmental outcomes by preventing ACEs and mitigating the negative impact of familial stress processes on child outcomes.



Family Stress Model, Adverse Childhood Experiences, Resilience, Early Childhood