A PROGRAM EVALUATION: DOES THE CENTER PROJECT
EFFECTIVELY REDUCE PARENTAL STRESS?
James R. McCabe
B.A., Western State College, 1967
M.A., University of Northern Colorado, 1971
Ed.S., University of Northern Colorado, 1981
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Administration, Supervision, and Curriculum Development
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
James R. McCabe
has been approved for the
School of Education
Date 'ykul-2.0 /9K
McCabe, James R. (Ph.D., Administration, Supervision, and Curriculum
A Program Evaluation: Does the Center Project Effectively Reduce
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Patricia Stevens-Smith
This study compared the parental stress levels of an experimental
group that had received the services of The Center in Leadville,
Colorado, to the parental stress levels of a control group that had not
received similar center-based services. The services provided by The
Center were year-round, full-day care for children ages birth through 5
and outreach services including support and training to family day-care
providers and school-based information and referral services to help
parents with other child care needs, such as social services referrals or
The experimental sample was randomly chosen from the
population of Leadville, Colorado, who used the services of The Center
for their children ages birth through 5. The control sample was randomly
chosen from the parents of children ages birth through 5 who live in
Silverthome, Colorado, and who did not have similar center-based
Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was used to analyze the data.
The ANCOVA allowed for the control of initial differences between
independent variables before comparisons were made between the
experimental and control samples to test for differences in parental stress,
child stress, and total stress as measured by the Parenting Stress Index
The dependent variables used in this study were parental stress,
child stress, and the two combined, or total stress. The covariates, or
continuous independent variables, were the income levels of the families,
the Life Stress Scores on the PSI, the number of children in the family
ages 8 or younger, and the education level of the mother. The factors, or
categorical independent variables, were the group (experimental or
control), the employment status of the person completing the survey, and
the number of adults living in the home (one adult or two).
The study showed a strong relationship between the services
offered by The Center in Leadville, Colorado, and a reduction in parental
stress among its patrons. The review of literature suggested that this
reduction in parental stress would have a positive effect on the children
who attended The Center.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I
recommend its publication. / Patricia Steveds-Smith y
1. INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY..........................1
The School of the Twenty-First Century..........4
The Center Project..............................5
Statement of the Problem...........................9
Purpose of the Study..............................10
Research Question and Hypotheses..................10
Implications of the Study.........................13
Summary and Outline of the Research Design .... 14
Limitations of the Study..........................17
2. REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE.........................21
Trends and the Changing Demographics..............22
Stress, Families and Children......................36
Parent and Family Stress........................37
Families and Stress.............................40
Stress and Children.............................50
The Independent Variables..........................58
Preschool and Day-Care..........................60
Number of Children Per Family...................77
Mother's Education Level........................78
Stress, Families and Children...................81
The Independent Variables.......................84
3 DESIGN OF THE STUDY...................................88
Selection of Sites and Subjects......................90
The Center Program...................................97
The Experimental Subjects.........................Ill
The Control Subjects..............................112
Covariates and Factors............................119
Comparison of the Two Sample Groups...............121
Evidence Related to the Research Question and
5 CONCLUSIONS, IMPLICATIONS, AND
Summary of the Study..............................139
Design of the Study............................141
Dependent Variables, Covariates, and Factors . . . 142
Summary of Literature Search...................143
Research Question and Hypotheses...............147
Summary and Discussion of Findings................149
Review of Literature...........................150
Results from the Analysis of Data..............152
Limitations of the Study..........................154
Conclusions and Recommendations................156
Considerations for Future Research.............163
A. Parent's Survey...................................165
B. Sample LettersExperimental and Control Samples . . . 170
INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
Today's American family is very different from its
counterpart of twenty or thirty years ago. Since the 1960s,
there has been a sharp rise in the number of working
mothers and single-parent families, a drop in the median
annual family income, and increased fragmentation and
isolation of the family. Young parents are less likely today
to live near extended families who could provide support
and advice on childrearing and other family issues, nor can
many parents rely as heavily as they once did upon nearby
relatives and friends for child care. Such changes in the
nature of family life have led to more stress on working
parents, which in turn has resulted in more stress in
children's lives. Since the family's well-being influences the
child's development, it is possible that changes in the
American family over the past two decades may be
hindering many children's optimal growth. (The 21st
Century School Project, 1991, p. 1)
Although rapid change in family demographics and its effect on
young children have been major concerns of sociologists and educators
for the past thirty years, they became the focus of national attention when
President Bush and the nation's Governors met at the National Education
Summit in 1989. In the process of creating the six national education
goals, the summit adopted as its number one goal that by the year 2000
all children in America will start school ready to learn (National
Governors' Association, 1990). Earnest Boyer, the renowned educator,
believes this goal is the most important of the six because without it the
other five cannot be achieved (Boyer, 1993). The accomplishment of this
goal depends on overcoming the factors that limit a child's ability to
succeed upon entering school. One of the factors may be the amount of
parental or family stress experienced by the child through the preschool
In the introduction to his Parenting Stress Index. Richard Abidin
(1990) said, "Every parent experiences stresses which, depending upon
their number and intensity and the resources available to cope with them,
would determine whether dysfunctional parenting occurred. The natural
consequences of this dysfunctional parenting are that the child often
develops behavioral and emotional problems" (p. viii).
Many of the families within the United States are in stress
(Hamburg, 1990b). Cameron (1977) sees the existence of excessively
stressful characteristics in children as one of the major factors
contributing to the development of behavioral disturbances. Abidin
(1990) supports this by stating, "Stress in the parenting system during the
first three years of life is especially critical in relation to the child's
emotional and behavioral development and to the developing parent-child
relationship. The importance of early identification and intervention
efforts lies in its potential for reducing the frequency and intensity of
behavioral and emotional disturbance among children in our society" (p.
The Policy Academy Team on Families and Children At-Risk
(1990) determined that a large number of Colorado families do not have
adequate housing, health care, or child care because the family
breadwinners are unemployed or employed in low paying jobs. They
have also found that the children of these families are at increased risk of
being abused, dropping out of school, getting pregnant as teenagers,
abusing drugs, and engaging in criminal activity due to the stresses
affecting the adults in the family.
In its Strategic Plan for Colorado's Families and Children, prepared
for Governor Roy Romer, The Policy Academy Team on Families and
Children At Risk (1990) states that on any given day in Colorado:
440.000 people are without health insurance (about one-
third of those are under the age of 18).
475.000 adults are illiterate.
81,130 families with children under the age of 18 are living
58,480 low income families with children under 18 live in
inadequate, unaffordable housing.
194 crisis calls are made to shelters for victims of
123 youths are arrested.
51 couples divorce.
31 adolescents drop out of school
20 children are abused or neglected.
16 babies are bom to teen mothers.
11 babies are bom weighing less than 5.5 pounds.
One child dies before his/her first birthday, (p. 5)
The School of the Twenty-First Century
In 1987, The 21st Century School Project at Yale University
unveiled its solution to the child care crisis and called it The School of
the Twenty-First Century. Edward F. Zigler, the founder of Head Start,
was the guiding light behind the formation of this program that
incorporated comprehensive family services into the public schools. In
1988, the first School of the Twenty-First Century model opened in
Independence, Missouri. The School of the 21st Century Project has
continued to expand across the United States and is currently found in
most states, although Connecticut is the only state actually to legislate
funds for the development of the program (The 21st Century School
According to the 21st Century School Project, all communities
joining the School of the Twenty-First Century Program must agree to
build programs with a minimum of two child care components and three
outreach services. The child care components are school-based, year-
round, all-day care for children ages 3-5 and school-based before- and
after-school and vacation care for children ages 5-12. The outreach
services include: family support and guidance through a home visit
program to parents, beginning before the birth of the child and continuing
until the child reaches the age of 3; support and training to family day
care providers in the school's neighborhood; and school-based
information and referral services to help parents with other child care
needs such as evening and infant care (The 21st Century Schools Project,
The Center Project
The Center Project, hereafter called "The Center," in Leadville,
Colorado, was initially independent from the 21st Century School Project
but joined the project in 1990 because of a mutual mission and a
commonalty of programs. According to the Bush Center at Yale
University, The Center now offers the most comprehensive program of
all of the Schools of the Twenty-First Century (M. Finn-Stevenson,
personal communication, July 27,1992).
In 1987, representatives from the Lake County School District,
Lake County Department of Social Services, Lake County Health
Department, Colorado Mountain College, Mountain Board of
Cooperative Educational Services, Colorado Department of Education,
and local private preschool and day-care providers began the planning
process for The Center. In September of 1988, the Lake County School
District opened The Center with 103 children attending. The three
programs offered at that time were a preschool for all 2 1/2- to 5-year old
children, a day-care program for all 2 1/2- to 10-year old children, and a
before-and-after school program for all 5- to 13-year old children. The
programs were available to all children living within the boundaries of
the Lake County School District, and The Center remained open 365
days per year from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Local tax dollars were not
used to support these programs. The programs began as an educational
project to assure the success of students as they enter and move through
the Lake County Schools.
Between 1987 and 1994, The Center has added programs as
community needs became evident. The philosophy of The Center has
been to provide services that will prepare young children to enter
kindergarten ready to leam and to facilitate the success of children
already in school. This philosophy addresses the overall concern for
serving the needs of children and the need, expressed by the National
Education Summit, to have all children ready to leam when they enter
school. The evolving services have been as diverse as adding an infant-
toddler program in 1989, which allowed parents to return to work earlier,
and developing an innovative teen-pregnancy program in 1990 that has
helped to reduce the number of teen pregnancies in the Lake County
The added services fit generally into four categories. The first
category provides direct services to children so they will be more
successful at learning and ultimately successful in later life. The second
educates present or future parents in the role of being a parent, hopefully
allowing their children to take better advantage of the educational
process. The third raises the adult literacy rate, following the belief that
the literacy of the parent has an effect on the success of children in
school. Last, the role of The Center has been to assist the community in
becoming a better place for children to live. Some excellent examples of
this assistance include projects such as facilitating the writing of grants
that affect the entire community; providing food to the community
through the SHARE program; and, jointly with Saint Vincent's Hospital,
developing a prenatal program for all women within the county.
By 1994, The Center had become a total community center and
served over 1000 children and adults in a multitude of programs. Since
1987, the following programs have been added to the preschool, day care,
and before-and-after-school programs: (a) infant-toddler care for birth
through 2-1/2 year old children; (b) care for all preschool handicapped
children using an integrated model; (c) a Head Start program that serves
60 low-income children; (d) Young Mothers, a program to help first-
time mothers; (e) a teen pregnancy program; (f) a prenatal program in
conjunction with Saint Vincent's Hospital; (g) a program that trains
adolescents in baby-sitting; (h) a life skills class for adults that provides
retraining, English as a second language training, and a chance to receive
a Graduate Equivalency Diploma; (i) a high school vocational class
studying infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and parenting; (j) an office of
the Lake County Department of Social Services for on-site family
centered counseling; (k) Child Find to identify preschool handicapped
children; (1) Parents as Teachers which conducts home visits for parents
with babies; and (m) a variety of programs designed to duplicate the
benefits that children who stay at home receive such as Boy Scouts, Girl
Scouts, Little League baseball, dancing, drama, tutors, music lessons,
karate lessons, cooking lessons, and ski lessons.
Statement of the Problem
While no shortage of suggestions on how to address the problems
currently being faced by many families and children exists, there is a
shortage of model programs that address these issues effectively as well
as research designed to evaluate their effectiveness. In addition, a
preventive model of early intervention at the preschool level needs to be
substantiated rather than remediating problems experienced later in a
child's K-12 experience. Also, the problems of families and children
identified in the research continue to plague the low socio-economic
section of the population more severely than middle and upper socio-
Purpose of the Study
This study is an effort to determine if a model family center
program can effectively reduce the amount of stress found in parents and
families. Specifically: do the family programs offered at The Center in
Leadville, Colorado, significantly reduce the amount of parental stress
among its patrons? The programs considered in this study are the school-
based, year-round, all-day care for children ages birth through 5 and
family outreach services that include family support and guidance
through a home visit program to parents, beginning before the birth of the
child and continuing until the child reaches the age of 3; support and
training to family day care providers in the community; and school-based
information and referral services to help parents with other child care
Research Question and Hypotheses
The primary research question addressed by this research is: Does
the provision of comprehensive child-care services reduce the amount of
stress in families with preschool children? To answer this question a
quasi-experiment was conducted to test nine hypotheses. The hypotheses
were as follows:
1. Center clients will report a significantly lower (a =.05) level of
parental stress than a comparison group of parents after adjusting for
differences in income level of the family, life stress events, number of
children in the family ages 8 or younger, education level of the mother,
employment status of the person completing the survey, and the number
of adults living in the household.
2. Differences in the level of parental stress between Center clients
and comparison group parents will be consistent across levels of adults
living in the home.
3. Differences in the level of parental stress between Center clients
and comparison group parents will be consistent across levels of
4. Center clients will report a significantly lower (a =.05) level of
child stress than a comparison group of parents after adjusting for
differences in income level of the family, life stress events, number of
children in the family ages 8 or younger, education level of the mother,
employment status of the person completing the survey, and the number
of adults living in the household.
5. Differences in the level of child stress between Center clients
and comparison group parents will be consistent across levels of adults
living in the home.
6. Differences in the level of child stress between Center clients
and comparison group parents will be consistent across levels of
7. Center clients will report a significantly lower (a =.05) level of
total stress than a comparison group of parents after adjusting for
differences in income level of the family, life stress events, number of
children in the family ages 8 or younger, education level of the mother,
employment status of the person completing the survey, and the number
of adults living in the household.
8. Differences in the level of total stress between Center clients
and comparison group parents will be consistent across levels of adults
living in the home.
9. Differences in the level of total stress between Center clients
and comparison group parents will be consistent across levels of
Implications of the Study
This study is important to policy makers and practitioners who are
interested in determining the role that high quality preschools and family
centers can have in improving the living and educational conditions of
children and their families. Even with the national goal to have all
children ready to learn when they enter school, the growing awareness of
changing families, and the implications for families and children, very
little has been done to develop model programs for evaluation and
Although numerous suggestions have been advanced to meet the
national education goal number one and to help mediate the effects that
changes in families have produced, very few model programs have been
established to test the theories. This project allows for the evaluation of a
successful model center program.
Policy makers and practitioners will also find importance in the
review of literature. The review of literature focuses on the changes
occurring in today's families and possible implications for children as
they move through the educational process. In addition, the review of
literature examines the relationship between family stress and the effect
on children's ability to achieve in school.
School districts, policy makers, and other practitioners must begin
to look at the impact that early childhood education programs have on the
educational success of children who typically come to them at age 5.
This research data will help them begin planning for the inclusion of
early childhood education and family related services into the customary
services they now provide.
Summary and Outline of the Research Design
This research project has a single treatment variable: the services
offered by The Center and used by families with children birth through 5
years of age. In Leadville, usage of The Center is almost universal. The
non-using population within Leadville was not large enough to form a
control group. This made it necessary to study two different
communities. Thus the control group is composed of families, with
children from birth through 5 years of age, from a different community
who have no such services available in a similar community center
This study tested the effect the treatment variable had on the
experimental population and the lack of treatment on the control
population. The study sought to determine whether there was a
significant decrease in the amount of parental stress when early
childhood services for children birth through age 5 are available, as
defined by the services offered by The Center.
A two-part survey instrument was used to collect data. The first
part of the instrument collected demographic data on each family chosen
in the sample. This part of the instrument was developed and field tested
by Yale University in its Schools of the Twenty-First Century Program
(The 21st Century School Project, 1991). The first section of this part
collected general demographic information about the family. The second
section collected information on how the family negotiated employment
and child rearing responsibilities.
The second part of the survey instrument is the Parenting Stress
Index (Form 6), developed by Richard R. Abidin of the University of
Virginia, and was used to measure the degree of parenting stress. The
Parenting Stress Index is a screening and diagnostic instrument designed
to yield a measure of the relative magnitude of stress in parent-child
development (Abidin, 1990).
Samples of 50 families each were chosen randomly from the
experimental and control group. These samples were chosen, using a
random number list, from lists of families representing the
experimentally accessible population. The communities of Leadville,
Colorado, and Silverthome, Colorado, were used to derive the
experimentally accessible populations.
The research study employs a quasi-experimental design. A quasi-
experimental design is used because control through matching and
randomization was not feasible. This research design is used to
overcome problems of external validity and small experimental effect
The analysis of covariance was chosen as the inferential statistical
method. The use of the analysis of covariance insures that the results
observed may be attributed, within limits of error, to the treatment
variable and to no other causal circumstances. Borg and Gall (1979)
defined an analysis of covariance as a method to statistically control or
adjust the effects of one or more uncontrolled variables, and permit a
valid evaluation of the outcomes of the experiment. Because of the need
to use two different communities in this study, it was necessary to define
several covariates to be included within the analysis of covariance
(ANCOVA). These covariates were adjusted during the ANCOVA to
ensure that a valid evaluation of the dependent variables could be made.
Limitations of the Study
The use of a quasi-experimental design, where matching and
randomization are not possible, can overcome problems of external
validity as well as small experimental effects but usually major problems
with control still exist (Caporaso, 1973). Achen (1986) states, "The
resulting experimental and control groups may be very different indeed,
and nothing like the comparable groups that randomization would have
produced" (p. 4). The findings of a quasi-experimental study are limited
because the design can only be used to conclude that a relationship exists
between the dependent variables and not that there is a provable cause-
This study was completed in two small rural communities in
Colorado. This may limit the generalizability of the findings to mid-
sized or inner-city areas.
In addition, the small sample size may restrict the identification of
a difference in means between the two groups when there may be
significant difference if a larger sample was used. Given the small
sample size, insufficient statistical power may exist to identify a
difference. This will also limit the generalizability of the study to other
Although ANCOVA seems to be the best statistical tool available
for this study, Glass and Hopkins (1984) caution about the use of the
analysis of covariance by stating that even with the ANCOVA it is not
possible to remove all of the bias.
For the purpose of this study the following definitions are given:
Analysis of Covariance: For the purpose of this study the analysis
of covariance is described as a method to statistically control or adjust the
effects of one or more uncontrolled variables and permit a valid
evaluation of the outcomes of the experiment (Ferguson, 1976).
At-Risk-Children: "Those students who are likely to leave school
without the necessary skills to succeed academically, socially, and/or
vocationally in today's or tomorrow's society" (Davis & McCaul, 1991, p.
Covariates: Continuous independent variables (Hale, 1992).
Experimentally Accessible Population: The population from
which the treatment group and the control group were drawn (Borg &
Factors: Categorical independent variables (Hale, 1992)
Low Socio-Economic Status: this refers to families who are at or
below the poverty line as established by the United States Government
for determining eligibility for their numerous social programs. In most
instances this is synonymous with low income and poverty.
Parent or Family Stress: the result of parents or family being
exposed to demands or stressors from their internal and external
environment, resulting in tensions within the system. Tensions become
stress when the parents or family lacks the capacity or coping skills to
moderate the tensions.
Parenting Stress Index: A screening and diagnostic instrument
designed to yield a measure of the relative magnitude of stress in parent-
child relationships (Abidin, 1990).
Quasi-Experimental Design: A research design where it is not
possible to manipulate the stimulus, and where there is no control
through matching and randomization (Caporaso, 1973).
Stressors: Factors that produce tension within the family system
(i.e. poverty; marital discord; education level of the parents, especially
the mother; low socio-economic status; unemployment; single-parent
family headed by the mother; and substance abuse).
Treatment Variable: The variable that is being manipulated or
studied in the experimental subjects (Borg & Gall, 1979).
REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE
Many times, living within a certain paradigm, we are unable to
grasp the extent or speed of change that is occurring in the world around
us. In order to provide necessary background information for this study,
the review of literature begins with an overview of the demographic
changes occurring throughout the United States that are having a
dramatic effect on families and children. Because this study focuses on
children and families of the 1990s, the time frame for this review
primarily encompasses changes over the last three decades. The first
section defines the types of changes and the swiftness with which these
changes are occurring in all aspects of our society. Trends and the
relationship to the changing demographics are also examined.
The second section reviews the literature with the intent of
developing a composite definition of parent and family stress and
constructs a set of common factors which may be perceived as the main
cause of stress within families. The relationship among stress in families,
its affect on children's development, and later academic and social
problems is also examined.
Finally, the independent variables being investigated in this study
are compared with the available research. The literature review gives
needed background information concerning the independent variables
and their relationship to family stress.
Trends and the Changing Demographics
The United States is currently undergoing a period of dramatic
change. This change is occurring in all aspects of our society. The first
part of this section provides an overview of those demographic changes
related to families and the effects the changes are having on traditional
family systems. The second part of this section focuses on the
demographic changes specifically affecting children. Current trends in
family relationships are also examined. Many of the issues in this section
are examined in depth later in this chapter.
David Hamburg (1990b) examined the enormous changes that
have occurred in family systems over a single generation by comparing
certain characteristics of 1960s families with characteristics of 1990s
families. Even though 1960s families recognized the difficulty of
changing ideals into reality Hamburg (1990b) states, "Until 1960 most
Americans shared a common set of beliefs about family life" (p. 5). His
ideal 1960s family was one that shared a common set of beliefs about
family life where a husband and wife lived together with their children.
The husband's role was one of breadwinner and head of the family,
giving his name to his wife and children. The wife's main tasks were to
support and facilitate the husband, guide the development of the children,
look after the home, and set the moral tone for the family. It was a belief
that marriage should last, for better or for worse, until "death do us part."
The husband and wife were to cope with stress together, including the
stresses associated with raising children. Hamburg (1990b) says further
that, "parents had an overriding responsibility for the well-being of their
children during the early years; until the children entered school, they had
almost sole responsibility and even later had primary duties including
guidance of their children's education and discipline" (p. 5).
Hamburg's 1990s family was characterized as one where family
ideals have changed drastically across all social classes. Both for
economic reasons and because of a belief in themselves, women have
joined the paid labor force in great numbers (Hamburg, 1990b).
Hamburg's changes in 1990 family ideals include: single parent families
mostly headed by mothers; one-half of all marriages end in divorce; the
majority of women believe that both the husband and wife should work,
should have similar opportunities, and should share household and child
rearing responsibilities; and many women are choosing not to have
children at all (Hamburg, 1990b, p. 6).
Brubaker and Kimberly's (1993) study on demographic trends
within the American family support Hamburg's contentions. They use
the trends to describe the wide range of family forms that have become
prevalent. Their trends include: "declining rates of marriage, later ages
of the first marriage, higher divorce rates, an increase in female-headed
families, a higher proportion of births to unmarried mothers, a higher
percentage of children living in female-headed families, and a higher
percentage of children living in poverty" (p. 4).
Hamburg (1990a) provided an earlier glimpse at what he believed
to be the beginning of the change in our family systems. He concluded
that the family was the locus for everything in our earlier agrarian
society, including education, social, and mutual preparation.
Technological and social changes were very slow and children could take
their time growing up. Hamburg believed that the Industrial Revolution
changed everything. The Industrial Revolution caused innovation to
escalate and with it a rapid transformation of our economic, political, and
The speed and magnitude of demographic changes within the
United States, and globally, are unprecedented in the history of mankind.
While these changes in our society have produced a tremendous number
of benefits they have also created stresses on our families. It would seem
that changes are occurring at such an accelerated rate that families, and
social institutions, cannot adjust rapidly enough to keep pace. Brazelton
(1988) stated, "Family life has been changing so rapidly in the U. S. that
the pressures on parents are out of proportion to their ability to cope
within the present nuclear family system" (p. 66). Brazelton also saw a
breakdown in the traditional extended family and the failure of our
national and local institutions to keep up with the ever increasing changes
and supply the support necessary to address the normal issues of
The increasing amount of stress being placed on families, and
concurrently upon children by the rapid changes in the world, is one of
the major premises of this study. Brubaker and Kimberly (1993) have
stated that "there is little doubt that the voluntary (new) nature of family
relationships may lead to discontinuous patterns within the family.
Children are the most affected by the consequences of these disruptions"
(p. 10). Powell (1993) supplies support to this by stating that "through
direct experience and media reports, most Americans encounter daily
reminders of the loss of extended families and neighborhoods as
traditional support for parenting, and home environments that fail to
facilitate children's optimal development" (p. 79).
The precept that children are under ever increasing amounts of
stress is a common theme of the literature. Hamburg (1990a) often
relates social changes to the increased complexity that children must
endure as they learn and develop social tasks. He believes that many
parents in modem society simply cannot provide the essential conditions
for the development of children in their early years. These essential
conditions include adequate prenatal care, adequate resources for healthy
childbirth, and the know how to select good child care. In addition,
increasing numbers of women are raising their children alone, without
social supports, and are in the work force, often leaving their children in
the care of others.
The changing roles within families, often made without choice,
may be the driving force behind much of the pressure and added stresses
that modem families are currently feeling. The need for both parents to
work because of financial considerations; increasing divorce rates,
resulting in the subsequent increases in poverty among children;
dramatically increasing rates of teenage births and births to unwed
mothers; lack of adequate child-care; and loss of the extended family and
traditional neighborhoods all contribute to the breakdown of the family.
At the same time, many social institutions have not made the necessary
changes to assist families as members move into new roles. This is
exemplified by the current lack of high quality child-care, the shortage of
before-and-after school programs, welfare systems that reward people for
not working, the lack of training programs to train adults in new careers,
and school systems that base their school calendar on an antiquated
agrarian calendar instead of on parents work schedules (Hamburg,
Mothers with preschool-aged children comprise the fastest
growing segment of the American work force (Emmons, Biemat, Tiedje,
Lang, & Wortman, 1990). Emmons et al. add that considerable stress
occurs when women attempt to balance a career and manage a home and
family, often without the suitable help of the male family member.
"Many of the difficulties encountered by working mothers stem from the
fact that society has yet to catch up with women's employment trends"
(Emmons et al.,1990, p. 61).
Using statistics from the U.S. House of Representatives,
Voydanoff (1993) states, "In 1970,40 percent of married mothers were
in the work force and by 1988 the number was at 65 percent" (p. 98) She
also predicts that, by the year 2000, 80 percent of the women between the
ages of 25-54 will be in the work force outside the home. Husbands will
have to accept the idea that as women contribute as providers, husbands
need to share in the domestic demands of marriage. Brubaker and
Kimberly (1993) believe that the primary responsibility for balancing the
roles of work and family has so far fallen on the female member of the
family. They state, "While men may experience some discomfort with
the changing responsibilities attached to new roles, research suggests that
women are more likely to experience overload and feel stress as a result
of increased responsibility within the workplace, coupled with
undiminished responsibilities at home" (p. 11).
Of equal concern is the ever increasing divorce rate that seems to
be one of the main causes for children living in poverty. Brubaker and
Kimberly (1993) offer the statistic that married couple families dropped
from 87 percent of family households in 1970 to 79 percent in 1990.
Coleman and Ganog (1993) estimate that the rate of divorce will continue
to rise until it reaches 60 percent of all marriages. Because of this,
single-parent families, usually headed by women, will continue to
contend with increasing poverty. Davis and McCaul (1991) report that,
in 1986, 13 million children lived with mothers only while 1.6 million
lived with fathers only. Huber (1993) believes that the absence of the
father is not the major disadvantage of single-parent children, it is the
loss of male earnings. Colletta (1983) also believes that the loss of male
income is the greatest source of stress, but also believes that the absence
of the father causes greater stress in raising children, caring for the
household, and managing crisis. Davis and McCaul (1991) state that,
"children in single-parent families are five times as likely to be poor as
children born to married couples, especially those families headed by a
single female parent (more than 50% are poor)" (p. 52).
Elkind states in his 1981 book, The Hurried Child: Growing Up
Too Fast Too Soon, that "today's child has become the unwilling victim
of overwhelming stressstress borne of rapid bewildering social change
and constantly rising expectations" (p. 3). Of all of the individuals
involved, as changes modify our society at an ever increasing rate, the
children are the most affected but seem to have the least amount of
control over what is taking place.
In 1991, Davis and McCaul, working for the Maine University
Institute for the Study of At-Risk Students, developed a comprehensive
study on the status of children and youth in the United States. After
synthesizing the current data from the recent reports about the well-being
of U.S. children and youth, Davis and McCaul isolated the indicators that
would lead to concerns about the current and future status of children and
youth living in the United States. The study has identified five major
disadvantaging factors defining at-risk children. These factors are
racial/ethnic minority status, poverty, living in a single-parent family,
having a poorly educated mother, and having limited English proficiency.
Davis and McCaul (1991, p.26) define at-risk students as, "Those
students who are likely to leave school without the necessary skills to
succeed academically, socially, and or vocationally in today's or
In regard to racial/minority status, Davis and McCaul (1991)
estimate by the year 2000 that 40 percent of our secondary students will
be from minority populations. They add, "Some demographers project an
almost 200 percent increase in our nation's population of blacks by the
year 2020, and an almost 300 percent increase in the Hispanic
population" (p.3). Davis and McCaul (1991) add that a large number of
the Hispanic population, as well as a significant number of other
minorities, will have limited use of the English language and this alone
will make them at risk of failure in school.
Poverty may be the single most important indicator associated with
the educationally disadvantaged and, as stated, is one of the primary
disadvantaging factors defining at-risk children. "Children represent the
single largest and fastest growing poverty group in the United States"
(Davis & McCaul, 1991, p. 3). The current estimates are that 40 percent
of people living below the poverty level are children and 20 percent of all
children under 18 are poor. In addition, the reports are conclusive,
indicating that the younger the children the more chance they have of
being poor. Current statistics indicate that 23 percent of the children
three and under, and 22 percent of the three to five year olds are poor
(Davis & McCaul, 1991). This study also found that minority children
have an increased chance of being poor, compounding the factors that
contribute to being disadvantaged and, subsequently, at-risk. In 1987,45
percent of black children and 39 percent of Hispanic children were poor.
Statistics provided by Davis and McCaul (1991) help us to
examine the current living arrangements of children in the United States.
In 1955, 60 percent of the U.S. households had a working father, a
homemaker mother, and two or more school-aged children. In 1985,
only 7 percent of the families fit this pattern. By 1988,25 percent of the
U.S. children lived in a single-parent family and mothers headed 90
percent of those families. To add emphasis to this factor, Davis and
McCaul (1991) found that "living in a single-parent household has been
well documented as one of the major indicators for placing children at
risk for educational and broader social and economic failure" (p. 4) In
addition, the number of homeless and precariously housed children is
rising dramatically within the United States. Davis and McCaul found
that homeless and precariously housed children lack access to quality
education and often attend many different schools within one school
Closely related to the issues of poverty and single-parent families
is the issue of children being bom to unwed women. The rate of births to
unwed mothers is at an all-time high in the United States, and the fastest
growing group are those women who are 15- to 17-years old (Davis &
McCaul, 1991) The issues of poverty, single-parent families, and unwed
mothers may be tied directly to other issues such as educational level of
the parents, health care for children, and increased child abuse.
The education level of the parents, especially the mother, is one of
the major factors associated with educationally disadvantaged children
(Davis & McCaul, 1991). Although the educational levels of parents in
general have increased over the last several years, the educational level of
minority parents continues to lag behind.
Davis and McCaul (1991) call attention to several other indicators
affirming that children are being adversely affected by many of the
societal changes going on around them. These include health care for
children, overall academic achievement of our students, child abuse, and
substance abuse by parents.
The first additional indicator expressed by Davis and McCaul
(1991) is, "America lags far behind most other industrial countries
regarding maternal and child health care" (p. 5) The statistics indicate
that one in five children in the U.S. has no health insurance.
The level of academic achievement of students in America
continues to be disappointing. Statistically, only one-half of American
students can perform moderately complex tasks and 25 percent do not
complete high school. Davis and McCaul (1991) state that "poor
teenagers are four times more likely than non-peer teens to have below-
average basic skills, and they are three times more likely to drop out of
school" (p. 5).
On the issue of child abuse Davis and McCaul (1991) point out
that "there has been a steady and alarming increase in the number of
reported child abuse cases in the U.S. in recent years" (p. 6). In 1989,
2.4 million cases of child abuse were reported with 800,000 being sexual.
In addition, 1,250 children died from abuse.
Davis and McCaul's (1991) final indicator has implications far
beyond the factors stated earlier. They state that "Fetal Alcohol
Syndrome is now generally regarded as the leading cause of mental
retardation in the western world, and the second leading cause of birth
defects in the United States, affecting approximately 1 in every 650
babies" (p. 6).
McCormick (1989) adds credence to the Davis and McCaul study.
He found that conservative estimates are that 40 percent of children are
at-risk, meaning 21 million children under the age of 18 are at-risk. In
addition, one million school youths drop out of school each year and 1.5
million teenagers become pregnant.
Dimidjian (1989), in a study of at-risk youth for the National
Education Association, sees the major deterrents to normal growth as the
increasing stress factors of poverty, detachment from empowering adults,
and pressure on children to flee childhood prematurely. She states,
"Taken together, as too often happens today, the resulting picture is of a
child angry, distrustful, mentally disorganized, and at severe risk for
failure in the formal school setting" (p. 8).
In her section on the prerequisites for academic success, Dimidjian
goes on to say:
Children, and even the phenomenon of childhood itself, are
increasingly endangered today. We see children in the early
years who cannot play and learn, children in the later
elementary years who are tuning out and turning away from
both the opportunities and the challenges schools offer,
adolescents, who rush into the dead end of drugs, alcohol,
easy street money or having a baby to love when not yet
able to care for their own well-being (p. 22).
The recent changes within society have had a profound effect on
children. Statistics indicate that many of the changes have had negative
consequences for children. That the negative consequences are
increasing points out the failure of families, neighborhoods, and social
institutions to grasp the nature of the changes and to develop strategies to
Stress. Families and Children
In this section, the literature was reviewed with four purposes in
mind: to develop a commonly accepted definition of parent and family
stress, to examine common factors that produce stress within families,
and to look at some of the mediating circumstances that produce varying
levels of stress in different families. Lastly, and most importantly, the
literature was reviewed to examine the relationship between family stress
and child related problems.
Parent and Family Stress
Although this study requires a specific definition of parent and
family stress, it is appropriate to begin with a broad definition of stress as
applied by sociology. While studying the effect that increased social
support had on reducing the amount of parental stress in families, Koeske
and Koeske (1990) defined stress as "the result of the appraisal and
coping processes used by individuals exposed to concrete environmental
demands associated with their occupation of various roles" (p. 440).
People, exposed to demands within their environment, are forced to cope
with them. Their differing abilities to manage these demands produces
varying degrees of stress in the individual(s).
In defining parental stress, Whipple and Webster-Stratton (1991)
state that stress is the "interaction of subjectively defined demands of a
situation and the capacity to respond to the demands" (p. 279). Whipple
and Webster-Stratton carry the definition one step further by referring to
the demands as stressors. They see these stressors as life events, hassles,
transitions, and related hardships that produce tension. Unmanaged
tension results in stress. Some examples of Whipple and Webster-
Stratton's stressors are poverty, unemployment, low education levels, and
substance abuse. In this definition, stressors are the cause of the stress,
and stress is the physical manifestation of the stressors.
The use of the term stressors is common in defining those factors
that cause stress. Webster-Stratton (1990) places stressors into different
categories when talking about parental stress. Her stressors included
external (e.g., unemployment, low socio-economic status), internal (e.g.,
marital distress, divorce) and child, or those actions of a child that
produced stress within the parents. According to Webster-Stratton, when
these stressors are present they produce tension, and if the parents are not
able to overcome the stressors, using whatever means available, then
parental stress results.
Kline, Cowan, and Cowan (1991) expand the definition of parental
stress to include the "baggage" that parents bring to parenthood, even
before the baby is bom. They state, "Parenting stress includes not only
the tensions arising from mothers' and fathers' relationship with their
children but the multitude of stresses throughout the family system that
are set in motion during the transition to parenthood" (p. 297). Becoming
a parent changes many things and requires major adjustments in the
marriage, work, and extended family.
The literature definitions were used as a basis for developing a
definition of parental and family stress for this study. Stress is defined
here as: The result of parents or families being exposed to demands or
stressors from their internal and external environment without the
necessary resources or coping skills to moderate the stressors.
How individuals or families deal with the stress produced by the
stressors, with varying degrees of success dependent on the availability
of resources to manage them, is dealt with in the next section. Resources
include such things as social services, money, increased education,
adequate employment, and support from an extended family. The ability
of a family to cope with stress depends on two things: the severity of the
stressors, that is, unemployment, marital distress, poverty, dysfunctional
children; and the resources available to buffer the stressors.
Families and Stress
It is universally accepted that parents and families suffer from
stress which affects the task of raising children (Abidin, 1990;
Ketterlinus, Lamb, & Nitz, 1991; Kline, Cowan, & Cowan, 1991;
Webster-Stratton, 1990). The question seems to be why some families
cope with the stress and prosper, while stress adversely affects other
families, especially the children in these families. Abidin (1990), while
developing his Parenting Stress Index, found that all parents experience
stress. Many of his subject parents seemed to suffer from the same
anxiety and tension as psychiatric patients, but the parents' stress was
stimulus specific, relating to their children only. He also found that the
primary cause of dysfunctional parenting was not having the resources
available to cope with the parenting stress. During his validity research
for the development of the Parenting Stress Index. Abidin (1990)
identified the following resources as key to preventing dysfunctional
parenting: the number of regular positive relationships a mother has with
relatives and the number of people the mother can rely on, the amount of
direct support given by the husband, the family's socio-economic status,
the amount of health care available to the family, and the availability of
other social services.
Webster-Stratton (1990), based on her study on family stress and
conduct-problem children, echoed Abidin's thoughts by stating,
"Whether a family system will be disrupted by stressors appears to be
affected not only by the number and relative weight of the stressors that
the family has to cope with but also by the family's personal vulnerability
or protective factors" (p. 310). Conversely, Ketterlinus et al. (1991)
believe that all parents experience stress, and that it always has adverse
affects on the family.
The conclusion that Kline et al. (1991) reached, while studying
first time parents, was that most parental stress was already present
within the parents before the baby arrived. They believed that the parents
could be assessed before the birth, determining whether there would be a
significant amount of parental stress. They found that babies do not
cause marital distress, if none existed before, and that parental stress is
not caused by a problem child or trouble with the parent-child
In reviewing the literature to determine a common set of factors or
stressors that cause or amplify family stress, it became evident that most
of the researchers had reached the same conclusions (Abidin, 1990;
Barron & Earls, 1984; Campbell, Breaux, Ewing, & Szumowski, 1985;
Webster-Stratton, 1990; Whipple & Webster-Stratton, 1991). In studies
ranging from the study of child abuse, to the causes of problem children,
and to developing instruments to measure family stress, common factors
are implicated as the cause of parental or family stress. It was also
evident that many of the same buffers mediate the stress levels and allow
some families to cope with stress while some do not (Abidin, 1990;
Barron & Earls, 1984; Campbell et al. 1985; Webster-Stratton, 1990).
Strife in the marriage and the mental state of the parents are two of
the most potent stressors. Campbell et al. (1985), defined severe family
stress as "serious chronic and/or multiple stressors such as a history of
chronic marital dysfunction, repeated separations, chronic parental
mental or physical illness, chronic unemployment, or the family currently
going through a particularly stressful and vindictive divorce" (p. 14).
Low social class correlated very highly with the above stressors, but
Campbell et al. also found that the effects of family stress are neutralized
if the mother-child relationship is positive, and in contrast, the effects of
family stress are exacerbated by a negative mother-child relationship.
Their study was primarily concerned with problem three-year-olds and
they summarized that problem three-year-olds with moderate levels of
ongoing family stress and a negative mother-child relationship could be
predicted to continue to have difficulties as they entered the school
Interestingly, Barron and Earls (1984) reached much the same
conclusion in their study of behavior problems in three-year-old-
children. It was their determination that certain social factors, mainly
parental mental illness, marital discord, single parent families, and severe
parental criticism of the child were the main causes of psychiatric
problems in school age children. They were also able to hypothesize
from their study that "flexibility of the child and positive parent-child
interaction curtail the overall adverse effect of high family stress on
behavioral adjustment in children" (p. 31).
Barnett, Hall, and Bramlett (1990) took a somewhat different tact
in their study on parenting stress and coping measures. They were able
to directly correlate the degree of parental stress with the parents coping
strategies. They found that the ability of the parent to cope with stress
directly correlated with the parents problem solving ability, self-
efficacy, and their ability to plan. They hypothesized that parents with
low problem solving ability, low self-efficacy, and very little ability to
plan also tend to be living in poverty, have a lower level of education,
and experience more marital discord.
In order to clarify the factors causing family stress, some of the
researchers placed them into categories. Abidin, in writing his 1990
edition of Parenting Stress Index, placed his stressors into three major
categories. His child characteristics include the child temperament
variables of adaptability, demandingness, mood and hyperactivity/
distractibility; how close the child fits his parent's idealized or hoped for
child; and the positiveness of the parent-child relationship. The parent
characteristics, or variables, include the degree of parental depression,
which measured the extent to which the parent is emotionally available
to the child; parental sense of competence in being a parent; and the
degree to which the parent shows attachment to the child. The last
category involves situational characteristics, or variables, which include
the parent's relationship to their spouse, the social support available to the
parent, the parent's health, and the restrictions caused by the parenting
role. Abidin combined all of these characteristics into a survey
instrument that provides a numeric scale to determine the amount of
parenting stress being experienced by a parent.
Webster-Stratton (1990) also categorizes her stress causing factors
into three different groups. These categories are external stressors which
include unemployment, low socio-economic status, race, and so forth;
interpersonal stressors, which include marital discord, isolation, alcohol
and drag abuse, single parenthood, and daily problems; and child
stressors, which include the parent-child relationship, child hyperactivity,
and parenting anxiety. She stated that these stressors interrelate and that
placing them into three categories was for convenience.
In her study of stressors and families, Webster-Stratton (1990) also
reached the conclusion that two of the major stressors affecting parenting
attitudes were divorce and separation. She also found a strong
correlation between socio-economic status and life stress. In addition,
she was able to state that the psychological characteristics of the parents,
the degrees of social support, and the parent's sex mediated the effects of
the three groups of stressors.
Whipple and Webster-Stratton (1991), in a study on the role of
parental stress and its relationship to child abuse, defined the key
stressors as poverty, low education levels, and substance abuse. Single
mothers were likewise at high risk of parental stress, but this was
primarily due to financial losses and the lack of marital support. This
study also closely associated depression, anxiety, and the child's behavior
and temperament to the amount of parental stress. Their final conclusion
stated, "In the final predictive model, social position accounted for the
most of the variance" (p. 287).
Most of the primary stressors deal with the direct condition of the
mother, mother-child relationship, or fathers abdicating their
responsibilities in the family. Marital discord often leaves the mother
and children alone in a single-parent family. Single-parent families
headed by the mother are the number one reason for new poverty in the
United States (Hamburg, 1990b). Research also shows that the
educational level of the mother is an important predictor of family stress
and the success of children as they enter school (Davis & McCaul, 1991;
Whipple & Webster-Stratton, 1991).
Although the causative factors associated with parental or family
stress are many and varied, there seems to be agreement on the primary
stressors. The three stressors having the largest consensus within the
literature were poverty; the educational level of the parents, but primarily
mother's education level; and substance abuse. Certainly, marital
discord, constant fighting, separations, and divorce, need to be included
as well as the psychological condition and health of the parents. Also
indicated, and appearing to be interrelated, are chronic under or
unemployment, low socio-economic status, and single parent households
which are usually headed by mothers.
The literature is in agreement on the mediating factors that reduce
the amount of parental or family stress present in a family system. These
factors are the positiveness of the mother-child relationship, the
psychological characteristics of the parents, and the support provided by
the family. Campbell et al. (1985), while studying the formation of peer
relationships in preschool aged children with later behavioral problems in
school, determined that positive adaptation to peer groups were related to
the quality of the mother-child relationship and the emotional climate of
the family. Campbell et al. also concluded, "Family stress, likewise,
appears to be related to family functioning and the quality of the mother-
child relationship" (p. 3). Barron and Earls (1984) support this
contention and state, "A path analysis suggested the hypothesis that
flexibility of the child and positive parent-child interaction curtail the
overall adverse effect of high family stress on behavioral adjustment in
children" (p. 31). Dimidjian (1989) carries the idea further while
discussing the prerequisites necessary to insure healthy children. She
states that we must ensure, "enduring social relationships, beginning with
the biological family and extending through the larger family system"
(p. 22). Campbell, Pierce, March, and Ewing (1991) add that "Young
children will likely have fewer cognitive, affective, and social resources
to help them overcome early problems on their own in the absence of a
warm and supportive mother-child relationship" (p. 177).
The largest category of mediating factors seems to be social
supports. Abidin (1990) stated that "the thing that determined whether
dysfunctional parenting occurred was the number and intensity of the
resources available to cope with the stress" (p. viii). Social supports
include many areas, such as social services, health, school systems,
mental health systems, welfare, Medicaid, and churches. Webster-
Stratton (1990) sees quality social supports as one way to overcome the
stressors that disrupt the parenting process creating conflict between the
parent and child. Koeske and Koeske (1990), in their study on the
buffering effects of social supports, found that "Across all analyses, it
was apparent that stress produced debilitating effects particularly or
exclusively for mothers lacking adequate social support" (p. 448). They
defined social supports as, "Resources made available through
interrelationships with significant others" (p. 442).
Menaghan and Parcel (1991), in their study of the home
environments of children, came to the conclusion that the most important
predictors of a stressful home environment were the maternal
characteristics of age, education, ethnicity, and initial self-esteem and
locus of control. Interestingly enough, they also found that the impact of
negative characteristics in the child's environment tends to be cumulative.
Emmons et al. (1990) found that women tend to get trapped in a
cycle and have stated "Findings suggest that women may get trapped in a
vicious cycle where stress, role demands and insufficient time to plan,
result in increased stress and role demands in the future" (p.87).
Webster-Stratton (1990), in her study of conduct-problem children also
found that stressors caused parents to be more irritable, critical, and
punitive, which caused more stress in the family, which in turn caused
the parents to be more irritable, critical and punitive. The degree and
kind of social support, as well as support from spouses, help to break the
cycle. Koeske and Koeske (1990) support this contention. They found
that "across all analyses, it was apparent that stress produced debilitating
effects particularly or exclusively for mothers lacking adequate social
support" (p. 448).
It has been already stated that a positive mother-child relationship
can mediate most stress within the family. The money two working
adults bring to a family system can also prevent many of the stress
problems (Sund & Ostwald, 1985). Webster-Stratton (1990) believes
that the loss of financial support from the husband is one of the main
stressors that puts single mothers at high risk.
Stress and Children
The intent of this section on stress and children is to relate affect
of the level of parent or family stress on children as they move from
preschool into the school setting. It also examines how family stress
affects children's social adjustment and school success.
Many of the researchers have based their studies on preschool aged
children who were below the age of three. Abidin (1990) found that
"stress in the parenting system during the first three years of life is
especially critical in relation to the child's emotional/behavioral
development and to the developing parent-child relationship" (p. 1).
Abidin (1990) also suggests that excessive stress on children is one of the
main factors contributing to childhood mental illness. He also saw that
one of the natural consequences of dysfunctional parenting, caused by
stress, is that children often develop behavioral and emotional problems.
Campbell et al. (1991) chose to address the issue of stress on
preschool children in a different manner. They found that mothers, who
were experiencing many of the factors associated with family stress,
tended to react to their children in a negative way, especially if they
perceived their children as uncooperative. This, in turn, provided the
children with "fewer cognitive, affective, and social resources to help
overcome early problems on their own" (p. 177). Additionally, they
concluded that a warm, supportive, positive mother-child relationship
could moderate many of the stressors on children.
Barron and Earls (1984), in studying school age children, came to
the conclusion that behavior problems in preschool children could be an
indicator of developing psychiatric disorders. Through their own review
of literature, they were able to tie these psychiatric disorders to the
following factors: severe parental criticism of the child, parental mental
illness, marital discord, and single parent families. Many of these same
factors have been shown to produce family stress.
One of the most meaningful studies done relating early home
background to a child's academic attainment and school progress was
completed by Cox in 1987. In his review of literature, Cox found that
"researchers have accumulated an overwhelming body of evidence in
support of the view that the child's home background acts as a major
determinant, or rather, set of determinants of his or her level of
educational attainment and pattern of educational growth" (p. 219). He
also found that "children from what might be termed culturally and
materially disadvantaged homes tend, as a group, to under-achieve in
schools compared with more advantaged peers" (p.219). Cox's research
examining the effects of early cultural and material disadvantage in the
home upon young children's subsequent school progress and adjustment
supported the view that home background did determine the level of a
child's academic achievement. His findings agreed with his review of
literature but also found that cultural and material disadvantages could be
overcome if there was a positive parent-child relationship in the home.
Dimidjian (1989) and Elkind (1981) reached much the same
conclusion when studying increasing amounts of stress being placed on
parents as they adjust to the new rigors of modem everyday life.
Dimidjian (1989) believed that the multiple stressors that parents are
experiencing today cause the parents to push their children, prematurely,
through the stages of development and beyond their capabilities. In the
section on the prerequisites for academic success Dimidjian (1989) states
that "we see children in the early years who cannot play and learn,
children in the later elementary years who are tuning out and turning
away from both the opportunities and the challenges schools offer" (p.
22). Elkind (1981) sees the child as an unwilling victim of the stresses of
contemporary life and sees the parents as pushing the child to grow up in
order to relieve the stress of raising children, one of the few stresses that
adults control. The concept of childhood, as we know it in traditional
America, is disappearing from our society and causing irreparable harm
to our children (Elkind, 1981).
Campbell et al. (1985) studied problem six-year-olds to determine
if family stress and negative mother-child relationships correlated with
the number of problems that a child had as a toddler or preschooler. She
concluded that the strongest predictors of persistent childhood problems
at age six were lower social class and negative mother-child
relationships. High family stress correlated with an increase in
hyperactivity at age six. Additionally, Webster-Stratton (1990) found
that parents who were irritable, critical, and punitive increased the
likelihood that children would develop conduct problems.
Tying family stress to problems in adolescents was also considered
in the literature. The problems become more complex when considering
not only academic success but also such things as teen pregnancy,
dropouts, substance abuse, and other problems associated with modem
adolescents. Beatty (1993) concluded that, "school is only one setting in
which the consequences of early maltreatment appear. Dmg use occurs
most frequently among adolescents whose early childhoods were spent in
distracted, disorganized, and chaotic households" (p. 14). Dimidjian
(1989) found that children who are turning away from schools because of
their parent's pressure to grow up, are the ones who "rush into the dead
ends of drugs, alcohol, easy 'street money,' or 'having a baby to love'
when not yet able to care for their own well-being" (p. 22).
Davis and McCaul (1991) provide the best tie between stress and
adolescent problems first by defining at-risk youth as "those students who
are likely to leave school without the necessary skills to succeed
academically, socially, and/or vocationally in today's or tomorrow's
society" (p. 26), and then by giving us the five key indicators associated
with disadvantaged youth and children. These are "living in poverty;
minority/racial group identity; living in a single-parent family; having a
mother who is poorly educated; and having a non-English language
background" (p. 2).
Stress is produced within the family system when parents, or the
entire family, are exposed to stressors within their environment, and do
not have the necessary resources or coping skills to moderate the tension
produced by the stressors.
The common stressors or factors that seem to produce the greatest
amount of tension within the family system include: poverty; marital
discord; educational level of the parents, especially the mother; low
socio-economic status; unemployment; single-parent family headed by
the mother; and substance abuse. This author concludes that the common
theme running through the majority of these stressors, and having the
greatest influence on family stress is poverty. It seems evident from the
literature that the mother is the member of the family system who has the
greatest impact on family stress, both in reacting to the possible causes of
stress and in mediating the stress.
How well families cope with stress seems related to the resources
available to them. Adequate financial resources appear to have the
greatest buffering effect on family stress. Two other mediating factors
are the positiveness of the mother-child relationship and the degree and
quality of the social supports available to the family.
The literature seems quite clear in establishing a relationship
between family stress and problems of young children and adolescents.
Many of the authors were able to correlate family stress to later
emotional problems as children entered school. Several authors took a
more circuitous route to this conclusion by finding that stress caused
dysfunctional parenting, or made mothers react negatively to the child,
which in turn caused emotional/behavioral problems in the children and
gave the child fewer resources to overcome developmental problems.
The effects of family poverty, one of the main family stressors, is
also correlated with the later educational attainment and patterns of
educational growth of children (Cox, 1987). Those children who live in
poverty do not reach as high a level of achievement or grow
developmentally as rapidly as children who do not live in poverty.
Finally, it was demonstrated that the factors having the highest
correlation with at-risk children were poverty, single-parent families,
minority, poorly educated mothers, and being from a non-English
speaking family. The majority of these factors are also highly correlated
with family stress.
The Independent Variables
In this section, the literature is reviewed to examine the research
that is related to the covariates, or continuous independent variables, and
to the factors, or categorical independent variables used in this study.
This review focuses on the relationship between the independent
variables and family stress.
The first portion of this section reviews the literature to examine
the research on preschools and day-care facilities and the effects that they
have on family stress and the development of children. The second
section looks at the research on poverty, income levels, and socio-
economic status to determine the effects on family stress and later
achievements of children. The third section examines the research on
single-parent families and the resulting effect on children and families.
The fourth section, on unemployed adults in the household, looks at
families with no employed adults, families with one employed adult, and
families with both adults employed. The fifth section reviews the
research on the number of children in a family and whether it makes a
difference on family stress and later development of children. The sixth,
and last, section explores the education level of the mother as a
determiner of family stress and the success of children in school and
The division of the text into sections is arbitrary because many
areas influence other areas. For example, the section on preschool and
day care has as much to do with low income families as the section on
low income. This has much to do with the interrelatedness of the factors
that produce tension within the family system. Reviewing from the last
section, these factors were poverty; marital discord; educational level of
the parents, especially the mother; low socio-economic status;
unemployment; single-parent family headed by the mother; and
Before moving to a discussion concerning the independent
variables used in this study it is important to note that frequently
researchers do not specifically use the term family stress when studying
factors that affect the development and subsequent achievement of
children. It is necessary to remember some of the conclusions reached in
the last section concerning the main stressors that produce stress and have
influence on children's development. For example, as the research has
shown, poverty is one of the main stressors producing tension in the
family system. Information used in the next section may indicate that
living in poverty causes retardation in child development.
Preschool and Dav Care
An important conclusion reached in the literature on preschool and
day-care facilities is reviewed before looking at the effects that preschool
and day care have on child development. Many authors reached the
conclusion that the quality of the preschool or day-care program is of the
utmost importance if it is to have a positive effect on child development
(Cohen, Johnson, Lewis & Brook, 1990; Haskins, 1989; Honig, 1986;
Kagen, 1989; Pardeck, Pardeck, & Murphy, 1987; Weikart, 1989b).
Weikart (1989b), in his Occasional Paper Number 5 written for the Ford
There is no intrinsic value in a young child's leaving home
for a few hours a day to join another adult and a group of *
children. A preschool classroom or child-care center is just
another place for a child to be, unless the quality of the
program is carefully defined and maintained. The positive
effects of preschool programs apply only to high-quality
child development programs, (p. 18)
Haskins (1989), in his comprehensive study of the highest rated
preschool programs in the United States, echoed many of the same
thoughts. It was his findings that the eleven programs, taken as a group,
had done remarkable things with children, but the key was that they were
quality preschool programs. Honig (1986) found "nurturant high quality
child care can lessen family stress" (p. 58), placing the main emphasis on
high quality. Pardeck et al. (1987) emphasize it more forcefully when
they state, "The benefits that accrue to those who are enrolled in day care
are available only in high quality programs" (p. 426). They go on to add,
"True education requires that a challenging and enriched environment be
provided for children on a regular basis" (p. 426). Cohen et al. (1990)
state, "A large body of research has led to strong evidence that children
experiencing adequate substitutes for maternal care are indistinguishable
from children cared for by their mothers" (p. 129). Finally, Kagen
(1989), who is often involved in policy issues related to early care and
education, and is concerned about the dramatic changes in America's
economic strata, sees the issue of quality child care as a national priority.
A large amount of research has been done on the effects of quality
preschool and day care on the development of children (Weikart, 1989a).
The most famous and conclusive has been the research on the Perry
Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Michigan. This preschool is the only
project that has longitudinal data over a significant period of time. The
research began 26 years ago and studied five waves of students, many
from low income families, and was composed of an experimental group
who attended the preschool and a control group who had no preschool
experience. David Weikart (1989a), who for years was the director of the
Perry Preschool Project, summed up the research in his Prevention in
Human Services. The evaluation question of the Perry Preschool Project
was whether or not high quality early childhood education could make a
permanent impact on the lives of participating children. After following
the children for 19 years, Weikart concluded that the children in the
program were more successful in school, functioned better in the
community, and were more successful in the world of work. In his
Occasional Paper Number 5 (1989b) Weikart also determined that good
developmental preschool programs help prevent scholastic failure in poor
children, improve their intellectual performance when they start school,
help reduce the number of poor children placed in special education,
reduce the need for poor children to repeat grades, and their participation
in the programs lower the high school dropout rate. In the same paper
Weikart made further claims for his program saying, "The study indicates
that good preschool programs can lead to a consistent improvement in
poor children's achievement throughout their school years, a reduced
delinquency and arrest rate, a reduced teenage pregnancy rate at age
nineteen, and a decreased rate of dependency on welfare at age nineteen"
Beatty (1993), commissioned by Head Start to determine the
emotional foundations of school readiness, followed students in
successful programs for several years to see how the programs would
affect the students success in school. Beatty compared children within
the program to children outside the program. The experimental children
received an extensive program of Head Start that included child care and
family support. His conclusions were that children who had the
extensive preschool program did better in school; that almost twice as
many of the program children would remain in school for the next five
years; and that as adolescents, the program boys committed roughly one-
fourth the number of discipline offenses as the non program boys, and
their offenses were markedly less severe. In another study done within
the auspices of the Head Start commission, two sets of impoverished
Connecticut families were studied (Beatty, 1993). One group received
coordinated health and social services and the other did not. A decade
later Beatty found that children within the special education program had
better school attendance and were "liked more" by their teachers.
Interestingly enough, he also found that the mothers of the experimental
group had completed more schooling, had fewer children, and had more
members who were self supporting.
In his study of the best preschool programs, Haskins (1989)
reached much the same conclusion. He states, "Taken as a group these
are remarkable studies. They demonstrate unequivocally that quality
preschool programs can provide an immediate boost to children's
intellectual performance and reduce their rate of placement in special
education classes" (p.276). Although not conclusive, he also believed
that quality preschools decreased grade retention and the dropout rate.
For the most part, researchers were only able to find significant
gains with low income children and families and did not find benefits for
children from higher socio-economic families. Pardeck et al. (1987)
found, "Studies on intellectual development generally conclude that
advantaged children are not impacted positively or negatively by the day
care experience" (p. 420). In contrast they concluded, "Those children
coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds often show
positive gains" (p. 420). Kagen (1989) also found that high-quality
intervention can be of significant benefit to low-income populations. She
sees the whole idea of intervention with low-income families as moving
from treatment to prevention because it is far less costly and has many
more benefits. Hamburg (1990a) also believes that children from poor
families tend to gain the most from quality child care.
The effects that preschool and day care have on children from
middle or high socio-economic families are neutral, although preschool
and day care does seem to have an effect on the middle and high socio-
economic parents. Pardeck et al. (1987) found that children from
advantaged backgrounds have no difference in intellectual development
whether raised at home or in day care. Adequate day care had a positive
effect on families due to the family income provided when both parents
Hamburg, in his 1990 Annual Report to the Carnegie Foundation.
concluded that child care in the United States is totally inadequate to
meet current and future needs and that the necessity of finding adequate
child care is not only time consuming but very stressful to families,
regardless of income. Sund and Ostwald (1985) found that "child care
can be a significant source of stress for the dual-earner family, and
finding high quality, affordable, consistent day care is a major task for
parents" (p. 358).
The review of literature concludes that high quality preschools and
day care can have a significant impact on children from low income
families providing them with better opportunities to be successful in
school and in later life. The literature demonstrated improvements in
everything from intellectual abilities to decreasing high school dropout
rates and seemed to indicate that providing quality preschools should be
national policy for children from low socio-economic families. Issues
identified in the studies were that the amount of quality preschool and
day care available within the United States was inadequate and could not
meet the current or future needs. Also, low income children do not have
the same opportunities to attend high quality preschools as middle and
high income children, although Head Start and other private programs,
such as the Perry Preschool Project, are making some inroads into this
The literature uses three different terms to refer to families who
have fewer monetary resources than average. They are low-income
families, low socio-economic families, and poverty. For the purposes of
this review they will be used interchangeably.
The literature is rich with references to poverty and its impact on
families and children. The author has concluded from the literature that
while the other major stressors, such as marital discord, unemployment,
and single-parent families, are not exclusive to low socio-economic
families they would appear to have a stronger relationship to poverty than
any other factor. A very strong relationship exists between poverty and
marital tension, unemployment, single-parent families, education level of
the parents, and even substance abuse. Reynolds (1991) states,
"Children's primary risk factor is poverty, which leaves them vulnerable
to associated developmental problems" (p. 3) Fully 25 percent of the
children under six are now growing up in poverty. The United States
leads the industrialized world with the number of children living in poor
famihes (Dimidjian, 1989).
The relationship between poverty and developmental problems in
children seems to be without question as does the relationship between
poverty and increased family stress. Hamburg (1990b) states:
Almost every form of childhood damage is far more
prevalent among the poorfrom increased infant mortality,
gross malnutrition, recurrent and untreated health problems,
and child abuse in the early years to educational disability,
low achievement, delinquency, early pregnancy, alcohol and
drug abuse, and failure to become economically self-
sufficient later on. (p. 4)
Campbell et al. (1985), while studying family characteristics and
child behavior as predictors of whether children would have problems
when they reached school age, came up with two strong predictors of
persistent problems at age six. They were negative maternal behavior
and lower social class.
While Campbell et al. (1985) studied the correlation between
social class and behavior problems in six year olds, Comer (1986) was
able to develop a relationship between families in economic distress and
later academic problems. It was his contention that poverty robs children
of the benefit of preschool that would lead to later academic success.
Students from the low socio-economic class, even if they want to succeed
in school, must attend schools where staff and students often make it very
difficult to obtain academic success. Comer states, "Children from the
most stressed and troubled families often enter school greatly
underdeveloped along the pathways most necessary for academic
success" (p. 193). McCormick (1989) reinforces this concept by
reporting, "Although at-risk children can't be categorized easily, many
researchers agree that problems associated with school failure often are
found among children who are poor and/or a member of a minority
group" (p. 1). Children from poor families often experience low
motivation to learn, have delayed cognitive development, lower
achievement, participate less in extra-curricular activities, have lower
attendance, and a higher dropout rate (Hess, 1989).
In addition, the literature is replete with references to the
relationship between family income and family or parental stress. Low
income almost always correlates with higher family and parental stress.
Colletta (1983) carried out a comprehensive study to determine the
causes of stress faced by one-parent families. The research compared 72
divorced and married women at two income levels. The results were
predictable, finding that the highest level of stress was experienced by
divorced women with the lowest levels of income. "When divorced
families differing only in income level were compared, the groups were
found to differ in overall stress, financial stress, child-rearing stress,
stress associated with using community services, employment stress and
stress associated with living arrangements" (Colletta, 1983, p. 23).
Campbell and Moen (1992), who were also studying single mothers who
were working, researched the level of income to the amount of
job/family strain and found that the higher the income level of the group
studied the lower the role strain.
When studying families with two parents living at home, it was
also concluded that the lower the income the higher the level of family
stress. Menaghan and Parcel (1991) found that "low-wage jobs may also
increase work stress and compromise children's home environments if
more total hours of work are needed to accumulate sufficient family
income, thus reducing mothers' time and energy for appropriate
interaction" (p. 418). Income seems to have a buffering effect on stress
levels felt within families, even in families where both parents work.
In a study that primarily dealt with the stress levels of fathers,
McBride (1991) reached the same conclusion. He found that the only
thing that correlated to less stress for the fathers was the level of family
income, although the fathers' education level also had an effect in
reducing the stress levels.
It is evident from the research that poverty is a major determinant
of the future success of children in school and in later life, as well as
being one of the main causes of stress within families. Poverty, in
relationship to the other stressors that cause family stress, may be the
primary cause of problems for children as they move from being an
infant to preschool age to school age.
The areas of poverty and single-parent families are closely
connected. Much of the research on poverty came from statistical data
collected on single-parent families. Although all single-parent families
do not live in poverty there seems to be a correlation between the
increase in single-parent families, usually headed by the mother, and the
rate of poverty increase among children.
The literature strongly documents the relationship between single-
parent households and the amount of family stress. Stress is caused by
the loss of a second adult to share many of the responsibilities involved
with running a household and raising children and by the loss of income
that the second adult provided. Women head the greatest majority of
single-parent families. Davis and McCaul (1991) found that "13 million
children were living with their mothers only, 76% more than in 1970.
Nearly 1.6 million were living with their fathers only, double the number
in 1970" (p. 50).
Colletta (1983), although finding that the greatest source of stress
in single-parent families is the loss of income, also believes that the
absence of a father causes greater stress in child-rearing, caring for the
household, and managing any crisis that might occur. Those are things
that are readily observable in single-parent families. A study by
Menaghan and Parcel (1991) determined that, "mothers who reside with
spouses, quasi-spouses, or their own mothers, and mothers with fewer
absolute numbers of young children will provide more adequate home
environments" (p. 419). Campbell and Moen (1992) found a large
increase in role strain, or strain between job and home, when single-
parents worked outside the home. They also found higher strain
associated with more hours worked to make ends meet.
Cohen et al. (1990) conducted a study to determine the level of
psychopathology in 711 mother-child pairs that cut across income levels
and included single non-working mothers, single working mothers, two
parent non-working mothers, and two parent working mothers. They
only surveyed women whose income was necessary to the survival of the
family. The purpose was to determine how single heads of households
compared to two-parent households. Not surprisingly, children from the
lowest income group had the highest incident of psychopathology and the
highest income group had the lowest incidence. Cohen et al. found that
"both maternal and child problems of psychopathology were elevated in
single-mother families. However, these effects are very predominantly
accounted for by the low income levels of these families, and where
income was adequate no excess risk was apparent" (p. 130).
Does the literature support the contention that living in a single-
parent family affects the success rate of children, both in school and other
aspects of life? Barron and Earls (1984), in studying behavior problems
in three-year-old-children, determined that living in a single-parent
family, in relationship to several other factors such as negative mother-
child relationship and marital discord, was one of the main social factors
that related to psychiatric problems in school age children. McCormick
(1989) confirmed this by stating, "Studies by numerous researchers have
shown that children from single-parent families do worse in school, are
more likely to drop out, and are more likely to become teen parents"
Some of the literature also deals with divorce and how it relates to
single-parent families and poverty. In his Carnegie Corporation 1991
Annual Report. Hamburg (1990b) reported that the economic effect of
divorce on children is that the children usually lived with their mothers
who tend to have a lower earning power on average, therefore there is a
better chance of the children falling into poverty. He also reported that
the number of children living in poverty in 1970, after divorce, was 27
percent and that this rate had risen to 46 percent by 1987. Coleman and
Ganog (1993) studied the effects of the divorce process on children and
concluded that, "divorcing and post divorce families vary widely in ways
that undoubtedly affect children's development and well-being" (p. 115).
The previous two sections covered the issues of poverty and single
parent-families. A summary of that research indicates that the key issue
in determining family stress and successful children is the lack of
adequate financial resources, although the single-parent family does have
a substantial amount of stress caused by not having an additional adult in
the family to take on and share typical adult responsibilities within the
family. The issue of unemployment in single-parent families, as well as
the issue of equal pay for women with responsibility for single parent
families, is usually an issue of poverty. The effects of poverty on
children and families has been addressed in an earlier section and will not
be addressed again. This section deals with stress in families with two
Barling (1990) undertook a comprehensive study of the effects of
working wives in two parent families. Her results, while confirmed by
the majority of other researchers, do not reflect the common beliefs of
society. It is a belief in our society that children, whose mothers stay
home with them as they are growing up, turn out "better" than children
with working mothers. Barling found that mothers working outside the
home have no adverse effect on the children. This study indicated that
working wives have a more equitable marital relationship and that
employment provides wives with the means for exerting greater control
over their lives and marital relationship. Barling did find that divorce is
higher in families where the wives work but did not feel that this was
necessarily detrimental if the wives had the necessary financial resources
to dissolve unsatisfactory marriages. Hossman (1989) came to the same
conclusion when looking at outcomes for children.
Hossman (1989) found that, although mothers working provided a
buffer against stress from family roles and increased the mother's self
esteem, the conflicting view of the dual roles created stress in some
women. Brubaker and Kimberly (1993), studying the dual-earner family
from the economic standpoint, concluded that having two employed
adults worked well for the family when economic conditions were good,
but that having two working adults made the families more vulnerable to
fluctuations in the American economy. Hochschild (1989) found that
working mothers had higher self-esteem and less depression than
housewives, but compared to husbands they were tired and sick more
A summary of the literature indicates that a family with two
working parents, working outside the home, has no affect on the children
compared to a family where the mother stayed home with the children.
Working mothers seem to produce conflicting effects. On the one side
the work provides the needed financial resources to act as a buffer against
stress; provides increased self-esteem; and allows wives more control of
their lives, including their marital relationships, while on the other side
the working wives are more tired, get sick more often, and have increased
stress due to role conflicts.
Number of Children Per Family
Very little research has been completed to review related to family
stress caused by the number of children within the family. Guelzow,
Bird, and Koball (1991) studied the amount of role strain, as the source
of stress, for working mothers in two parent families. They used the term
role strain to define the conflict between the role of being a parent and of
working. They found that the number of children, instead of the age of
the children, seems to produce the greatest amount of physical distress
among dual-career women. A study by Campbell and Moen (1992),
studying job/family strain, confirmed this conclusion. Their findings
were that "number of children and the childs age were the most
important variables explaining strain" (p.208).
Mother's Education Level
The literature also is limited when studying the effect that the
mother's education level has on family stress and the development of
children. Tying the education level of the parents to poverty, marital
discord, unemployment, and many of the other stressors is beyond the
scope of this paper.
Davis and McCaul (1991), in their comprehensive study
synthesizing the current data from recent reports about the well-being of
United States children and youth, concluded that the educational level of
the mother was one of the five disadvantaging factors used to predict
children at-risk. They called the education level of the mother one of the
indicators that would lead us to be concerned about the status of children
and youth in the United States. They stated, "One of the major indicators
associated with the educationally disadvantaged children and youth is the
educational level of the parents, especially the mother" (p. 4). In their
study on child abuse and conduct-disordered children Whipple and
Webster-Stratton (1991) listed low education levels of parents as one of
the three psychosocial stressors which place families at increased risk of
child abuse. Finally, Menaghan and Parcel (1991) concluded that the
maternal characteristics of age, education, ethnicity, and initial self-
esteem and locus of control are the most critical predictors of the home
environments that mothers create for their children, and indicate the
degree of family stress in the home environment.
This section gave an overview of the changes that have been
occurring over the last two decades that affect our families and our
children. The changes occurring in technology, the economy, and in
society seem to be increasing at an ever faster rate. These changes have
caused a major upheaval in traditional family ideals that have been
prevalent in the United States over much of its history. This upheaval
appears to be having a major impact on families, and especially the
children, as the families attempt to cope with ever increasing pressures.
Because of the speed of the changes the present nuclear family, as
well as national and state institutions, cannot adjust fast enough. The
increasing amount of stress on families and children is causing a major
disruption of the family system and is causing children not to reach their
The speed of the change has also caused a breakdown in many of
the family support systems that are struggling to keep up with the
changes. Many of the systems are still applying traditional methods to
traditional families who no longer exist. Some of the support systems
include the traditional neighborhoods, extended families, social services,
and school systems.
Most of the major changes in the family system revolve around the
roles of women and include: women joining the work force in record
numbers; the number of single-parent families headed by mothers
currently making up 21 percent of the families; 50 percent of marriages
ending in divorce; 20 percent of the poor are children and represent the
fastest growing group of poor people; and a lack of prenatal care,
adequate resources for childbirth, and lack of adequate child care are
putting children in grave danger.
Estimates are that 40 percent of the children are at-risk. Because
of the changing demographics, children are feeling an overwhelming
stress caused by pressure to grow up in a hurry, detachment from adults,
poverty, child abuse, and other factors related to the breakdown of the
Stress. Families and Children
This section was written with three purposes in mind. The first
developed a common definition of family stress using a summary of the
literature. The second determined a set of factors commonly believed to
cause stress within families and studied some of the mediating
circumstances that produce differing degrees of stress in different
families. The third section developed a relationship between family
stress and childrens problems.
All parents and families experience stress, although not all families
experience the same number or relative weight of stressors. In the same
light, families have differing levels of resources to cope with the stress.
For the most part, there is common agreement in the literature on
the primary factors or stressors causing parental and family stress. The
primary ingredient in most of the factors is poverty and seems to
contribute more to stress than anything else. The other common stressors
are marital discord, including constant fighting, separations, and divorce;
the psychological condition of the parents; chronic unemployment; single
parent households, usually headed by the mother; educational level of the
parents, mostly related to the mother's education level; and substance
Using the review of literature as a basis a definition of parent and
family stress was developed for this study. The definition of parent and
family stress is: the result when parents or a family are exposed to
demands or stressors from their internal and external environment
without the necessary resources or coping skills to moderate the stressors.
The single resource having the greatest mediating effect is income.
Adequate financial resources have the greatest buffering effect on most
of the factors related to family stress.
In the situation where monetary resources are not available, there
are other mediating factors that reduce the amount of parental or family
stress present in the family system. The largest category of mediating
factors is available social supports. The positiveness of the mother-child
relationship is also shown to be significant. Other mediators include the
psychological characteristics of the parents and support provided by the
If the amount of stress produced by the stressors is not mediated
within the family, then developmental problems that are likely to occur in
young children are translated into later academic and behavioral
problems. Many conclusions can be reached from the literature on
problems of children related to stress within the family. Dysfunctional
parenting produces an increase in childhood mental illness as well as
behavioral and emotional problems. Stress producing factors cause
mothers to behave in a negative way toward their children causing the
children to have fewer cognitive, affective, and social resources to
develop properly. It was also found that behavior problems in preschool
children produced by stress factors within the family were an indicator of
developing psychiatric disorders and later behavioral problems in school.
Problems in adolescents, such as drug use, poor academic
achievement, conduct problems, dropping out of school, teen pregnancy,
substance abuse, and being pushed to grow up to fast, were also related to
disadvantaged families who experienced most of the stressors tied to
increased stress within the family.
The Independent Variables
The third section relates the literature to the independent variables
used in this study. The main focus of the study is the research question
of whether the services provided by The Center reduces parental and
The first section dealt with the literature on preschools and day
cares and how they affected children and the stress levels within families.
Quality preschools and day cares can have a profound effect on children
from low socio-economic families. Most of the literature found that the
early childhood experience had to be high quality if it was to have a
positive effect. Most of the authors confirmed that quality preschool and
day cares only affected poor children and had almost no effect on
children from advantaged families. Some of the conclusions reached in
the literature were that poor children who attended quality preschool or
day care achieved better in school, improved their intellectual
performance, had lower numbers in special education, had fewer numbers
repeating grades, a lower high school dropout rate, reduced arrest rates,
reduced teenage pregnancy, and depended less on welfare as adults when
compared to poor children who had no preschool or day care. The
findings for advantaged children were that it made no difference whether
children stayed home with mother or attended preschool or day care.
The second section dealt with family income levels. The literature
was conclusive in stating that all children living in poverty are at-risk. It
also concluded that low socio-economic parents lived at higher levels of
stress. Children living in disadvantaged homes had lower school
achievement, lower attendance rates, increased malnutrition, more health
problems, a higher rate of child abuse, had greater numbers of
educationally disabled, were more often delinquent, had more teen
pregnancy, more substance abuse, and had more economic problems in
later life. The primary buffers for low income were a positive mother-
child relationship and the level of social support the family received.
Single-parent families were so closely tied to low income that it
was difficult to separate the two issues. Single-parent families, headed
by women, constitute the fastest growing group of poverty families in the
United States. The main problem producing stress in these families is the
loss of the second adult income. The children from single-parent families
tend to have the same problems as children from low-income, dual-parent
families unless they have the necessary buffers to overcome the stressors.
Adult employment is also very closely tied to poverty. In the case
of dual earner families who are not poor, mother working does not seem
to have an effect on the achievement of the children. Working does seem
to have an effect on the role strain felt by the mothers because of a
conflict between the home and career.
The literature contained little concerning the number of children
per family affecting the amount of family stress. The small number of
articles supported the premise that the number of children had a greater
effect on family stress than the ages of children.
Very little information on whether the educational level of the
mothers affect stress was found. The educational level of the mother is
considered one of the five disadvantaging factors indicating at-risk
In summary, the literature supports the use of income level of the
family, number of small children living in the home under eight years of
age, and the mother's education level as the covariates, or continuous
independent variables for use in this study. In addition, it supports the
use of employment of adults living in the family, and the number of
adults living in the home as factors, or categorical variables, for use in
DESIGN OF THE STUDY
The goal of this study is to compare the parental stress levels of an
experimental group who had received the services of The Center in
Leadville, Colorado, to the parental stress levels of a comparison group
who had not received the services. The primary research question for this
study is: Does the provision of comprehensive child-care services reduce
the amount of stress in families with preschool children? For the purpose
of this study the services provided by The Center were year-round, all-
day care for children ages birth through 5 and outreach services
including: family support and guidance through a home visit program to
parents; support and training to family day-care providers; and school-
based information and referral services to help parents with other child
care needs, such as social services referrals or evening care.
A quasi-experimental design was chosen for this study because it
was not possible to assign subjects randomly to experimental and control
groups from the same experimentally accessible population. Nearly all of
the available subjects within the Leadville population used the services of
The Center. Therefore, it was necessary to find control subjects from a
different population and then to adjust for differences in the populations
using statistical methods. The control group was selected from the
population of the Silverthome, Colorado, area.
Descriptive statistics were used to describe and compare the two
sample groups, and by inference the two populations from which they
were drawn. Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) was used to test the
hypotheses. The ANCOVA was used to statistically control for initial
differences between the two experimentally accessible populations while
at the same time allowing for the detection of differences in the
The ANCOVA used three different kinds of variables. These
included the dependent variables and two kinds of independent variables.
The dependent variables used in this study were the parental stress, the
child stress, and the combined, or total stress, as measured by the
Parenting Stress Index (PSD. The covariates, or continuous independent
variables, were the income levels of the families, the Life Stress Scores
on the PSI. the number of children in the family ages 8 or younger, and
the education level of the mother. The factors, or categorical independent
variables, were the group (experimental or control), the employment
status of the person completing the survey, and the number of adults
living in the home (one adult or two). Within the ANCOVA the
covariates are used in a regression analysis to adjust the dependent
This chapter presents detailed information about the experimental
group, control group, and The Center; provides a description of the
analysis of data, including the dependent and independent variables, and
the survey instrument; and restates the research question and hypotheses.
The chapter concludes with a description of the sample selection and the
Selection of Sites and Subjects
The optimum design for this study would have allowed for the
selection of both the experimental and control groups from the Leadville
area. A common area for selection of both groups would have greatly
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