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Beyond Diagnosis: The Dynamics of Disability and Disruptions in Parenting


Beyond Diagnosis: The Dynamics of Disability and Disruptions in Parenting

By Christina Anne Sogar

Doctor of Philosophy in Social Welfare

University of California at Berkeley

Jane G. Mauldon, Chair

Drawing on 11 months of field research with 127 SSI-receiving parents, this study examined the relationship between disability, economic hardship and parenting practices as well as the likelihood of families' involvement with child welfare services. Four main research questions were examined. First, what are the pathways through which parents apply for and receive SSI benefits? Second, what are the main health, economic and caregiving needs of SSI-parent families? Next, how do disability characteristics including the type of onset, the stability of symptoms and worry about outcome influence parenting and family well-being? Finally, do families with past child welfare involvement differ from families without past child welfare involvement on health, economic or caregiving measures?

While the health limitations reported by parents who received TANF prior to SSI were similar to those who did not, the age each group began to receive SSI was different as was the rate of child welfare involvement. Parents who transitioned from TANF to SSI were older at the time they were approved and were much more likely to report past child welfare involvement than parents without prior TANF receipt. Public and private sources of support reduced some types of material hardship but had little effect on parenting. Characteristics of disability such as an acute versus gradual onset were also not found to shape parenting once other variables were accounted for. Parenting constructs, including nurturance, follow-through with discipline and organization, did not predict the likelihood of child welfare involvement.

Economic hardships and parenting limitations were found to be most pronounced among parents with poor mental health, and this finding appeared to be related to a greater degree of social isolation. The development of a peer network, where parents can share their strengths and struggles and feel supported in their parenting role, may serve to reduce the social isolation of parents with mental health problems and improve their families' well-being.

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