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Depressive Symptoms, Child Adjustment, and Father Involvement in African American Families Open Access

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Introduction The association between maternal depressive symptoms and adverse child outcomes (Goodman et al., 2001) may be moderated by father involvement (Mezulis et al., 2004). These associations are understudied among low-income, unmarried or non-cohabiting African American families. We hypothesized that: (1) father involvement would be negatively associated with (a) maternal depressive symptoms and (b) child externalizing and internalizing behaviors, (2a) maternal depressive symptoms would be positively associated with child internalizing and externalizing behaviors, and (2b) father involvement would moderate these associations such that the positive associations between maternal depressive symptoms and child internalizing and externalizing behaviors would be weaker with higher levels of father involvement. Method Participants were 79 low-income, African American mothers (M = 31.96, SD = 7.85, range 22-59 years), with a child between ages 2-12 years (M = 6.25, SD = 2.76; 52% boys). The majority were unmarried (78%) and non-cohabiting with the child's biological father (62%). Depressive symptoms were measured using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977; 20 items). Child behavior problems were measured using the internalizing and externalizing subscales from the Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; Goodman, 1999; 25 items). Father involvement was measured using the Multidimensional Father Involvement Scale (MFIS), adapted from existing scales (e.g., Hawkins et al., 2002; 43 items). Results In contrast to hypothesis 1a, Pearson correlations indicated that father involvement and maternal depressive symptoms were not significantly correlated (r = .02, p = .43). Partially supporting hypothesis 1b, father involvement was inversely associated with child internalizing behaviors (r = -.22, p = .03), but not externalizing behaviors (r = -.11, p = .17). Hierarchical regression analyses supported hypothesis 2a that maternal depressive symptoms were positively associated with both child externalizing (B = .32, p = .005) and internalizing behaviors (B = .37, p = .001). However, the interaction of maternal depressive symptoms and father involvement was not significant (internalizing B = .13, p = .232; externalizing behaviors B = .04, p = .706). Conclusion Findings indicate that maternal depressive symptoms may be a risk factor for child behavior problems and that interventions promoting increased father involvement may be helpful in reducing these problems. In contrast to previous research (Mezulis et al., 2004), we did not find support for moderation, possibly due to the use of cross-sectional, maternal reports of father involvement. Future research could examine father reports of the quality of their involvement (Coley & Morris, 2002).

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