Supporting Early Social-Emotional Development in Children of Mothers with Psychological Risk through Early Head Start
Healthy child development depends on the ability of parents to put in necessary involvement and attention to respond to children’s emotions and communication cues (Roggman, 2016). Maternal depression (Paulson et al., 2006) and parenting stress (Coyl et al., 2002) can reduce maternal responsiveness and is a risk factor for negative child social-emotional outcomes (El-Sheikh et al., 2009). The purpose of this study is to investigate how participation in Early Head Start (EHS), an early intervention program that provides families with individualized intervention services, affects social-emotional development for children of mothers with high and low psychological risk. Extant longitudinal data from the U.S. EHS Research and Evaluation Project, a nationwide study of infants (n=3,001) and their families, were used to examine the effect of maternal psychological risk on child development in the context of EHS services. Mothers reported parenting distress using the Parenting Stress Index (Abidin, 1995) and depression using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (Radolff, 1991) at 14 months. Parent-infant interactions, including parental responsiveness, were video recorded and coded at 14, 24, and/or 36 months using the Parenting Interactions with Children: Checklist of Observations Linked to Outcomes (Roggman et al., 2013). Child social-emotional development was measured using the Behavior Rating Scales of the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (Bayley, 1993) and the aggression sub-scale of the Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1999). Families participating in EHS had higher average parenting interaction quality scores than families in the control group. Parent-infant interaction quality, particularly responsiveness, is negatively correlated with maternal depression and parenting distress, and positively correlated with child social-emotional development. Mothers with lower psychological risk had higher parental responsiveness and children with better social-emotional development, especially for families participating in EHS. These results support previous research indicating that better early responsiveness is correlated with better social-emotional development.