Children's exposure to violence and distress symptoms: Influence of caretakers' psychological functioning

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Journal Article
International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2011, 18 (1), pp. 35 - 43
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Background: Previous studies linking violence exposure to adverse child behavior have typically relied on parental report of child symptoms without accounting for the informant's mental well-being, despite evidence that parental mental health can influence children's mental health and the parent's report of distress symptoms. Purpose: We assess the influence of maternal depression on the violence exposure and child distress association in a subset of the Maternal Infant Smoking Study of East Boston, a prospective birth cohort. Methods: Mothers reported on their children's violence exposure using the Survey of Children's Exposure to Community Violence (ETV) and completed the Checklist of Child Distress Symptoms (CCDS). The children also completed the ETV survey and the self-report version of the CCDS. Linear regression was used to assess the influence of violence exposure on distress symptoms adjusting for potential confounders, first using parent's report of exposure and outcome and a second time using the child's self-report. The mediating effect of maternal depression on the violence and distress association was also tested. Results: Among the 162 children ages 7 to 11, 51% were boys and 43% self-identified as Hispanic. When using child self-report, increased violence exposure was significantly associated with a broader range of distress symptoms (numbness, arousal, intrusion, avoidance subscales) compared to parent reported findings, which were only significantly related to the intrusion and avoidance subscales. Moreover, a significant mediation effect of maternal depression on the violence and distress association was noted only when mother's report of exposure and outcome was used. Conclusion: Considering both parent and child self-report of violence is necessary to obtain a complete picture of violence exposure because parents and children may be offering different, although equally valid information. The influence of maternal depressive symptoms on preadolescent's distress symptoms may be attributed to reporting bias as opposed to more direct effects; thus, the parent's psychological functioning should be taken into consideration when relying on parental report of the child's psychological functioning. © 2010 International Society of Behavioral Medicine.
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