Archive for the ‘family instability’ Category

Osborne Appointed to Panel of Experts to Build National Agenda to Reduce Child Poverty in Half in 10 Years

April 27, 2017child welfare, early childhood, family instability, osborne


According to the U.S. Census, 19.7 percent of American children, or 14.5 million, lived in poverty in 2015. Children represented 23.1 percent of the total population in 2015 and 33.6 percent of the people in poverty.

To address these staggering statistics, the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) has convened a committee of experts to provide recommendations for federal investment aimed at reducing the number of children living in poverty in the United States by half within 10 years. Dr. Cynthia Osborne, child and family policy scholar with The University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs, has been appointed to the NAS 12-member multidisciplinary committee.

Dr. Osborne is founder and director of the Child and Family Research Partnership, a rigorous academic research center, and also director of the Center for Health and Social Policy, the home of social policy for students, faculty, and alumni of the LBJ School.

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is a highly respected organization comprised of the country’s leading researchers that provides objective, science-based advice to federal legislators and policymakers on critical issues. Since its founding in 1863, the NAS taps “the energy and intellect of the nation’s critical thinkers” to provide nonpartisan, evidence-based guidance to decision makers in addressing policy challenges.

“I’m honored to be a part of this critical effort to aggressively reduce child poverty in our country,” said Dr. Cynthia Osborne. “Children are our greatest resource, but too many are mired in poverty and do not have the opportunities they deserve to reach their full potential. This committee is charged with identifying what we know works to move today’s children out of poverty, so that policymakers can determine how best to invest in our future.”

The five charges given to the Committee on Building an Agenda to Reduce the Number of Children in Poverty by Half in 10 Years are highlighted below: (Click for the full descriptions)

  1. Briefly review and synthesize the available research on the macro- and micro-economic, health, and social costs of child poverty, with attention to linkages between child poverty and health, education, employment, crime, and child well-being.
  2. Briefly assess current international, federal, state, and local efforts to reduce child poverty.
  3. Identify policies and programs with the potential to help reduce child poverty and deep poverty (measured using the Supplemental Poverty Measure) by 50 percent within 10 years of the implementation of the policy approach.
  4. For the programs the committee identifies as having strong potential to reduce child poverty, the committee will provide analysis in a format that will allow federal policy makers to identify and assess potential combinations of policy investments that can best meet their policy objectives.
  5. Identify key, high-priority research gaps the filling of which would significantly advance the knowledge base for developing policies to reduce child poverty in the United States and assessing their impacts.



Please contact Wendy Gonzales at or 512-471-8921 if you would like additional information or to arrange an interview with Dr. Cynthia Osborne.

Original post: LBJ School of Public Affairs Center for Health and Social Policy

Osborne Paper on the Impact of Shifting Family Dynamics on Child Wellbeing

January 5, 2017early childhood, family instability, News, osborne

CynthiaOsborne_cropwebThe increasing rates of divorce, remarriage, and single parenting over the past half-century have dramatically impacted the nature of family structure and child wellbeing.

CFRP director and LBJ professor Dr. Cynthia Osborne and her colleague Dr. Paula Fomby recent published Family Instability, Multipartner Fertility, and Behavior in Middle Childhood in the Journal of Marriage and Family addressing the complexities of family structure, specifically related to family instability, multipartner fertility, and child wellbeing.

Dr. Osborne is expert in social policy, poverty and inequality, family and child wellbeing, and family demography issues. For more on her work on family instability, click here.


The full paper is available at


Two concepts capture the dynamic and complex nature of contemporary family structure: family instability and multipartner fertility. Although these circumstances are likely to co-occur, their respective literatures have proceeded largely independently. The authors used data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a longitudinal birth cohort study including nearly 5,000 children born between 1998 and 2000 in hospitals in 20 U.S. cities, to consider these dimensions of dynamic family structure together, asking whether they independently predict children’s behavior problems at age 9. Frequent family instability was consistently predictive of higher predicted levels of behavior problems for children born to mothers who were unmarried, an association largely attenuated by factors related to family stress. Multipartner fertility was robustly related to self-reported delinquency and teacher-reported behavior problems among children born to mothers who were married.


  • Family structure transitions and multipartner fertility often co-occur: one in eight children born to parents who were married and almost one in two children born to parents who were unmarried in large U.S. cities experience both types of family change by age 9.
  • Family instability and multipartner fertility are associated with higher levels of behavioral problems in 9-year-old children, but the relationships vary across parents’ union status at birth.
  • Indicators of family context reflecting family stress theory diminished the observed association between family change and child behavior to a greater extent than did those related to family boundary ambiguity.
  • The magnitude of the association of family instability and multipartner fertility coefficients are similar for children born to mothers who were married or mothers who were unmarried, with the exception of the relationship between multipartner fertility and child-reported delinquency.

New Award: Project S.A.F.E. (Survivors are Fundamental to the Equation)

February 19, 2016cfrp, child welfare, family instability

CHILD WELFARE | Family Safety

  • Grant: Project S.A.F.E. (Survivors are Fundamental to the Equation)
  • Sponsor: Texas Council on Family Violence

In response to increasing awareness of the overlap between domestic violence and child maltreatment populations and services, the Texas Office of the Governor created the initiative Project S.A.F.E, overseen by the Texas Council on Family Violence. Project S.A.F.E. (Survivors are Fundamental to the Equation) is focused on improving collaboration between child welfare agencies and family violence centers in Texas to improve family safety.

Project S.A.F.E. domestic violence centers in Austin, Denton, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley are implementing pilot programs* focused on promoting child safety through enhancing competency, practice, and collaboration around domestic violence among Child Protective Services (CPS) staff and domestic violence program staff. CFRP’s research will help establish best practices and models for domestic violence centers across Texas to navigate the co-occurrence of domestic violence and child maltreatment.

*Denton County Friends of the Family, Center Against Sexual and Family Violence, SafePlace-Travis County, and Women Together Foundation with Family Crisis Center and Friendship of Women, Inc.


CFRP Co-Sponsoring Council of Contemporary Families Conference

February 2, 2016demographics, events, family instability

Council of Contemporary Families Conference: Families as They Really Are: Demographics, Disparities, and Debates

March 4-5, 2016 | UT  Austin
Liberal Arts Building | 118 Inner Campus Drive

The Child and Family Research Partnership at the LBJ School is proud to co-sponsor a fantastic conference hosted by colleagues at the Council of Contemporary Families (CCF) at The University of Texas at Austin this Friday and Saturday, March 4-5. CCF’s 2016 conference’s theme is “Families as They Really Are: Demographics, Disparities, and Debates.” This two-day event for researchers, clinicians, non-profit professionals, and journalists includes interactive panels and workshops about the state of contemporary families. Professor Wendy Manning (Bowling Green State University) and Professor Dolores Acevedo-Garcia (Brandeis University) will give keynote addresses. Click for registration information and the event program.


Infographic – Child Support: The Hidden Social Safety Net

April 29, 2015child_support, family instability

The Hidden Social Safety Net: a look at how child support payments compare to more traditional forms of family support.


Click for: PDF versionCitations

Box # 1: “Almost one in four children are in the U.S. child support system”

Child enrollment numbers calculated by dividing official 2013 caseload data for each program by the total U.S. child population in 2013 as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.

United States Department of Health and Human Services. Administration for Children and Families. Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2014, April). FY2013 Preliminary Report – Table P-3. Retrieved from:

United States Department of Agriculture. Office of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. (2015, April). WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) FY2013 Monthly Data – State Level Participation by Category and Program Costs. Retrieved from:

United States Department of Health and Human Services. Administration for Children and Families. Office of Family Assistance. (2014, May). TANF Caseload Data 2013 – Total Children. Retrieved from:

United States Department of Commerce. U.S. Census Bureau. (2013, July). Current Population Reports. Table POP1. Child population: Number of children (in millions) ages 0–17 in the United States by age, 1950–2013 and projected 2014–2050. Retrieved from:

Box #2: “How do child support payments help families?”

Bullet 1: United States Department of Health and Human Services. Administration for Children and Families. Office of Child Support Enforcement. (2014, February). History demonstrates child support lifts children out of poverty. Commissioner’s Voice blog. Retrieved from:

Bullet 2: United States Department of Commerce. U.S. Census Bureau. (2014, October). The Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2013. Table 5a. Retrieved from:

Bullet 3: United States Department of Commerce. U.S. Census Bureau. (2013, October). Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2011, Detailed Tables. Table 5. Retrieved from:

Box #3: “Average Monthly Assistance per Family in 2011”

Calculations correspond to each program’s average benefit per family in the program.

Child Support Owed and Received: United States Department of Commerce. U.S. Census Bureau. (2013, October). Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support: 2011, Detailed Tables. Table 5. Retrieved from: Note: Yearly benefit totals divided by 12 to reflect monthly averages.

TANF: United States Department of Health and Human Services. Administration for Children and Families. Office of Family Assistance. (2013, October). Characteristics and Financial Circumstances of TANF Recipients, Fiscal Year 2011. Table 41. Retrieved from:

SNAP: United States Department of Agriculture. Office of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. (2015, April). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Average Monthly Benefit Per Household. Retrieved from:$HH.pdf

EITC: United States Department of the Treasury. Internal Revenue Service. (2014, October). Statistics for 2010 Tax Year Returns with EITC. Retrieved from: Note: Average credit divided by 12 to reflect a monthly average. The EITC accounts for family size and number of children when determining the amount of the credit, permitting the average tax credit to be compared with the average assistance received by family units in other programs.

WIC: United States Department of Agriculture. Office of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. (2015, April). WIC Program: Average Monthly Benefit Per Person. Retrieved from:$.pdf; Johnson, B., et al. (2013). WIC Participant and Program Characteristics 2012. Prepared by Insight Policy Research under Contract No. AG-3198-C-11-0010. Alexandria, VA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service. Retrieved from: Note: “Average number of household members receiving WIC benefits” calculated using weighted averages of each Region and State in Table E.14 of “WIC Participant and Program Characteristics 2012”. The average number of household members receiving WIC benefits was then multiplied by WIC’s average monthly benefit per person in 2012 to arrive at the average monthly assistance per family.


CFRP Paper: Understanding Today’s Changing Families, Family Court Review

April 20, 2015family instability, fathers

CaptureMore than 40% of children in the US are now born outside of marriage. While their unmarried parents may have high expectations for the future, they are particularly vulnerable to financial and relationship instability. CFRP’s Cynthia Osborne and Nora Ankrum explore this issue in newly published paper, “Understanding Today’s Changing Families,” Family Court Review.

Link to publisher and PDF:
Authors: Cynthia OsborneNora Ankrum


When their children are born, most unmarried parents have high expectations for the future, but they are particularly vulnerable to financial and relationship instability. Their children are disproportionately likely to experience negative health and wellbeing outcomes, in part because of low father involvement. We provide an overview of the findings in this area, drawing primarily from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study and two studies conducted by the Child and Family Research Partnership at The University of Texas at Austin. We conclude that father involvement is largely a function of parental relationship quality, and that interventions designed to improve child outcomes should focus on enhancement of co-parenting skills.

Key Points for the Family Court Community
  • Relative to their married peers, unmarried parents face distinct barriers to financial and relationship stability.
  • Children of unmarried parents are more likely to experience negative outcomes for health and wellbeing, in part because of low father involvement.
  • One of the most consistent predictors of father involvement is the quality of the father’s relationship with the mother.
  • Interventions that teach co-parenting skills may enhance relationship quality and increase positive father involvement.


Two-Generation Approaches to Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

November 13, 2014early childhood, family instability, home visiting


The Annie E. Casey Foundation recently released a policy report calling for policymakers to focus on equipping both children and parents with the resources and skills they need to ensure the future success of today’s children. Though a Future of Children report cautions that the new wave of two-generation programs are still in their infancy, the theory behind the approach is strong and worthy of support and further research.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation report cites several types of existing programs that provide a platform for the two-generation approach, including home visiting. Home visitors meet monthly or sometimes weekly with families in their home. The home visitor develops a relationship with the family, works with the parent to help the child achieve developmental milestones, and at the same time, aids the parent in achieving personal financial, health, and well-being goals.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allocated $1.5 billion annually for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program (MIECHV) to fund states in implementing home visiting program models for families with children from birth to age 5 as well as pregnant women. The Child and Family Research Partnership is currently evaluating the statewide Texas Home Visiting program to understand the challenges in scaling home visiting programs and the potential impacts these two-generation programs can have on families and communities.


Though additional research is needed to fully understand the impact of a two-generation approach, it is clear from the Annie E. Casey Foundation Report that it is time for policymakers, government, and businesses to create and strengthen policies that support both the parent and child. Home visiting programs are one model for this approach but others should be considered as well.

Parents need access to post-secondary and employment pathways, as well as access to state and federal programs that increase income, to achieve financial stability. They also need resources to manage their own health and well-being in addition to that of their children. By connecting parents with these resources and at the same time, providing the children in the family with access to early childhood education, programs can reduce household stress and strengthen the family. This in turn provides children with a strong foundation for achieving developmental and learning milestones that will enable them to achieve future success.


- by Allison Dubin, Research Associate


New CFRP Briefs – Relationship Violence and Texas Families

October 1, 2014family instability, fathers, relat_violence


To coincide with the National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, CFRP has released two policy briefs on the issue. The briefs highlighted below present surprising findings based on original research about relationship violence and unmarried Texas parents.


CFRP Policy Brief | B.013.0914
Families at Risk: Understanding the Characteristics of Relationship Violence among Unmarried Texas Parents

Children who grow up witnessing or experiencing violence in the home are at serious risk for a range of negative outcomes.  Moreover, research shows children of unmarried parents - already beset by a number of economic and developmental disadvantages – are more likely to grow up in violent households than children in other family structures. This brief examines the dynamics of relationship violence among unmarried parents with newborns, paying special attention to the common characteristics and trajectories that typify violent relationships in the period surrounding a nonmarital birth.

We find that a staggering 1 in 5 unmarried mothers report experiencing relationship violence from the father of their child at least once since becoming pregnant. The majority of these mothers traverse a prenatal period marked by breakups and minimal assistance from the father, and most will end their relationship with the father by the time the child is three months old. A smaller contingent of mothers remains with the violent father over this same period; often, these sustained relationships have longer and more physically violent histories than those that dissolve. Prenatal violence screenings and interventions designed to connect at-risk families with legal and community-based resources may help improve the safety of mothers and children in these circumstances. READ FULL BRIEF


CFRP Policy Brief | B.011.1014
Relationship Violence and Paternity Establishment: Mapping the Policy Implications

Unmarried parents are encouraged to establish paternity for their children by signing a form in the hospital at the time of birth; however, for families experiencing relationship violence, the preferred method of paternity establishment is through the court system, where legal parameters can be placed on a father’s access to mother and child. Nonetheless, few cases of violence are rerouted to the court system by the professionals who administer paternity establishment at the hospital.

Drawing on original data compiled from two statewide studies, this brief highlights the intersection of relationship violence and paternity establishment from two perspectives - those of unmarried mothers and hospital staff. The data reveal that relationship violence is particularly high among fathers who don’t attend the birth; meanwhile, nearly 90% of violent fathers who do attend the birth establish paternity at that time, rather than through the judicial system. CFRP’s findings highlight the difficulties birth registrars face in detecting and intervening in cases of relationship violence, especially given the highly sensitive and complex nature of the problem. The findings also point to several policy options for improving the safety and welfare of unmarried mothers and their children, including the need to provide birth registrars with explicit training and directives for how to recognize and respond to potential cases of relationship violence. In addition, data presented in this brief offer insight into how policy might best intervene to ensure that paternity is established both safely and effectively for Texas parents. READ FULL BRIEF


Dad’s Absence at Birth Linked to Adverse Health Outcomes for Mom and Baby

September 12, 2014family instability, fathers, paternity

Dad’s Who Don’t Deliver: An Unmarried Father’s Absence at His Baby’s Birth Reveals Clues About Health of Mother and Child

176651918_smThere was a time when dads didn’t belong in the delivery room. Conventional wisdom of the 1950s held that a father’s presence was not just a distraction, but a potential source of infection in an otherwise sterile environment. Today, of course, these attitudes have shifted and dads are considered a welcome source of support and comfort at a child’s birth. Recent findings from CFRP, however, suggest that for unmarried parents there may be a connection between child health and fathers’ birth attendance after all—albeit a very different connection from the one feared in the past. Newly collected data show that a father’s absence at this key event, though not directly harmful, may nonetheless be a harbinger of early health complications for the newborn. These findings indicate that dad’s attendance is more than a mere gesture of support and commitment—it’s a window into the health and wellbeing of mother and child, and an opportunity for health policies that might anticipate and counteract adverse health outcomes for newborns.

Dad’s attendance is more than a mere gesture of support and commitment—it’s a window into the health and wellbeing of mother and child.

CFRP’s study is based on survey data drawn from a large sample of Texas mothers who had recently given birth outside of marriage. The data reveal that, compared to fathers who attend the births of their children, absent fathers are three times more likely to have children with health complications as early as 3 months after the birth [Figure 1.] They are also more likely to have children born underweight. Perhaps not surprisingly, these health problems affect more than just newborns of birth-absent fathers—they affect mothers too. Moms who are unaccompanied by the father at birth are more likely to have experienced complications during pregnancy or at the time of birth, suggesting that the poor health their children experience as newborns may reflect poor prenatal conditions earlier on.



A closer look at these families during the prenatal period shows that fathers who are absent from the birth are largely absent during pregnancy as well [Figure 2.] They are less likely to have helped the mother with transportation or everyday chores, to have accompanied mom to the ultrasound, or to have attended prenatal appointments in general. They are also less likely to have provided financial support.


It’s possible that stress imposed on the mother by a lack of father involvement during pregnancy contributes to prenatal health complications that in turn compromise newborn health. This connection could explain why fathers who are absent at birth, having already largely withdrawn from the child’s life beforehand, are more likely to have children with health problems at 3 months old.

Other research has confirmed the link between maternal stress and child health. In a recent study of fetal scans, researchers found that when mothers are stressed out, their fetuses also show signs of distress. And in a separate study of nearly 8,000 pregnant women, researchers noted that moms with high anxiety and depression are at greater risk of adverse birth outcomes, such as low birth weight. These studies highlight the importance of identifying and alleviating prenatal maternal stress, a conclusion supported by CFRP data.

Research has long shown a connection between father involvement and child wellbeing in the domains of academic achievement, emotional health, and employment stability. However, CFRP’s findings suggest the impact of a father’s absence may begin much earlier, with roughly 1 in 10 children born to unaccompanied mothers exhibiting health complications just three months after birth.

Fathers’ absence at the 20-week ultrasound, in particular, strongly predicts fathers’ absence at the child’s birth.

In light of these findings, health officials should consider developing early interventions for mothers whose partners are not present at prenatal appointments. Fathers’ absence at the 20-week ultrasound, in particular, strongly predicts fathers’ absence at the child’s birth and should be considered a signal that a mother is at elevated risk for prenatal stress and adverse child health outcomes. These mothers may benefit from access to emotional and financial support services aimed at stress reduction. Prenatal classes targeted at emotional self-management, coparenting, and communication have also shown some success. In the long-term, these mothers may need other forms of support. Early outreach on the topic of paternity establishment, as well as information regarding child support and visitation arrangements, may help these mothers better navigate the legal landscape ahead. These actions may also alleviate some of the burdens imposed by a father’s absence, and ensure that children have the emotional and financial support they need to succeed and be healthy.

Click for more about CFRP’s work in the areas of father involvement and paternity establishment.

Download PDF Version of this post.


New Fatherhood Research and Practice Network Launches

June 11, 2014early childhood, family instability, fathers, home visiting, osborne, paternity

frpnJust in time for Father’s Day, the new national project, the Fatherhood Research and Practice Network (FRPN), is officially launched! CFRP Director, Dr. Cynthia Osborne, is an honored partner and collaborator on the project and will be chairing the Responsible Fatherhood Workgroup.

Dr. Osborne was asked to be an active partner because of her expertise in early childhood and father issues; she also brings her own team of experts at the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP).

Dr. Osborne and CFRP are currently conducting a long-term evaluation of the Texas Home Visiting Program that serves parents with children under the age of six, with a special focus on father participation. CFRP also has a large body of work in the areas of father involvementpaternity establishment, and family instability.

The FRPN is a five-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation. The goals of the FRPN are to:

  1. Promote rigorous evaluation of fatherhood programs.
  2. Expand the number of practitioners and researchers collaborating to evaluate these programs.
  3. Disseminate information that leads to effective fatherhood practice and evaluation research.

The FRPN will focus on three main areas: responsible fatherhood, economic security and co-parenting/healthy relationships.

With the official launch, FRPN announced the first of three requests for proposals for grants supporting rigorous evaluation of fatherhood programs. For more about this grant opportunity, click here.


The Lost Boys: Disadvantage Begins Before Birth

April 30, 2014family instability, fathers

97770317smIn recent years, a wave of high-profile books and articles have taken up the gauntlet to address the persistent gender inequalities lurking in the shadows of our work and home lives. From Lean In to Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, the public square is abuzz with conversations on the evolving challenges wrought by an increasingly inclusive workforce that has yet to equalize its pay scales or revise the old expectations of domestic life. To this dialogue, we ought to add another observation: our boys, long the benefactors of an economy that rewarded industriousness and a masculine spirit, are increasingly falling behind.

That’s the proposal from David Leonhardt at least, who contends in his latest New York Times article that a new generation of boys is trailing desperately behind their female counterparts from a very young age. In behavioral development and academic achievement, research shows the early gaps between boys and girls actually get a foothold before kids even show up to kindergarten. But not only do boys start off at a significant disadvantage, they are apt to fall further behind over the course of their schooling. These trends have grave implications for the economic prospects of young men, who have already suffered a staggering blow over the last quarter century as factories have shuttered, wages have stagnated, and public programs have increasingly turned a blind eye to their struggles.

three months after the birth, father involvement with girls already outpaces involvement with boys by nearly 4 percentage points

Though it’s difficult to untangle the knot of forces behind these changes, the rise of single-parent families is almost certainly one of them. Today, nearly 2 in 5 children are born to unmarried parents. Many of these children will grow up in single-parent homes, most often headed by the mother. Though children of both genders are affected by the absence of an active father figure, the negative impacts are significantly greater for boys. Original research by CFRP shows these dynamics are often at play early in the child’s life, and may even begin during pregnancy. In fact, long before boys are even born, their fathers are more likely to have disengaged from the act of shared parenting. Fathers of boys are less likely to provide help or financial support to the mother during pregnancy, and many will not attend prenatal appointments or the 20-week ultrasound. Not surprisingly, this limited involvement with the mother translates to limited involvement with the child; three months after the birth, father involvement with girls already outpaces involvement with boys by nearly 4 percentage points. Ensuring that children of both genders have an equal shot at the future remains a hefty challenge. Though the factors at play are countless in number, and fixes may never come easy, one thing is clear. Fathers can be a start.



– by Daniel Dillon, Staff Research Associate


Emerging Scholars Pre-Conference Today at LBJ

April 25, 2014cfrp, early childhood, family instability

The Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is collaborating with the University of Texas at Austin Center for Health and Social Policy (CHASP) to engage young, emerging scholars in conducting their best work on the broad topical question: How can we build economic self-sufficiency among working families and the disadvantaged, while simultaneously meeting the labor demand needs of employers, through policies and programs that increase labor market skills, employment, wages, and earnings?

CHASP is hosting the Emerging Scholars pre-conference today centered around this issue of building human capital and economic potential. CFRP’s own Dr. Osborne is a discussant on a paper about what job characteristics of mothers of very young children value the most.

See the Directors in action below! From left to right: Dr. Carolyn Heinrich, CHASP Director; Dr. Tim Smeeding, IRP Director, and Dr. Cynthia Osborne, CFRP Director.


Maternal Depression and Home Visiting Programs

July 24, 2013early childhood, family instability, home visiting, mothers

101141090_smDepression is one of the most prevalent mood disorders among mothers, with about one in five mothers experiencing clinical levels of depression in their lifetimes.1 Maternal depression is linked with a host of negative outcomes for children. As mothers’ depressive symptoms increase, the quality of parenting declines, and developmental delays and problems in children increase. Children of depressed mothers also are more likely to have insecure attachment with their mothers, experience high social withdrawal, have poor communication and language skills, perform poorly on cognitive tasks, and show more disruptive behaviors across developmental periods.2 Particularly among low-income families, financial difficulties and related resource scarcity increase the detrimental impacts of maternal depression on the children’s adjustment, the mother’s health status, and the family’s functioning as a whole.3

The federal government and the state of Texas are working to prevent and treat maternal depression, particularly for low-income mothers. As part of the Texas Home Visiting Program, which CFRP is evaluating, some home visiting programs across the state are working directly with mothers to determine whether a mother is depressed and to provide help for a mother who reports depression. In numerous studies, researchers have found that participation in home visiting programs is associated with improvements in mothers’ mental health; however, researchers are as of yet uncertain about what components of home visiting programs are having these impacts.

Theoretically, multiple components in home visiting programs – such as parenting skills training, group activities, father involvement, community services information, or mother/child health screenings – could potentially increase mothers’ parenting efficacy, self-sufficiency, and social support within the family and from the community. Any of these factors could, in turn, reduce their parenting stress. Those components might not only directly reduce mothers’ depressive symptoms in the short term but, more importantly, help mothers to adopt coping strategies that would prevent maternal depression from reoccurring after the mother’s complete the home visiting programs.

-Ni Yan, Graduate Research Assistant



  1. Hasin, D. S., Goodwin, R. D., Stinson, F. S., & Grant, B. F. (2005). Epidemiology of major depressive disorder: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcoholism and Related Conditions. Archives of General Psychiatry, 54, 1097
  2. Goodman, S. H., Rouse, M. H., Connell, A. M., Broth, M. R., Hall, C. M., & Heyward, D. (2011). Maternal depression and child psychopathology: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 14, 1–27.
  3. Petterson, S. M., & Albers, A. B. (2001). Effects of poverty and maternal depression on early child development. Child Development, 72, 1794-1813.
  4. Hasin, D. S., Goodwin, R. D., Stinson, F. S., & Grant, B. F. (2005). Epidemiology of major depressive disorder: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcoholism and Related Conditions. Archives of General Psychiatry, 54, 1097