Poverty and maternal child maltreatment: The mediating roles of psychological distress and social support

Ingul Lim, Fordham University


Guided by social stress theory, which considers the unique economic stress of poverty faced by many urban, low-income, single, and racial/ethnic minority mothers, this study offered a theoretical framework and empirical model of child maltreatment for better understanding the structural mechanisms by which poverty affects child maltreatment. Taking advantage of the longitudinal and prospective population-based sample of mothers (N = 1,419) drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCW) study, this study employed structural equation modeling (SEM) to examine the hypothesized three structural equation models that included both the direct effect of poverty on child maltreatment as well as the mediating effects of psychological distress and social support. The results demonstrated that both psychological distress and social support were significant mediators in the association between poverty and child maltreatment. In particular, this study found that social support substantially decreased mothers' psychological distress, indicating that social support clearly acted as a stress buffer in the association between poverty and psychological distress. However, the protective effect of social support on mothers' psychological functioning did not indicate that social support would indirectly decrease the risk of maternal child maltreatment. This finding needs to be interpreted with some caution due to the measurement limitations found in this study. Additionally, the effect of maternal psychological distress on the risk of child maltreatment might have been overestimated. A number of alternative interpretations were presented; still it is difficult to provide a clear explanation for this finding. However, findings from the mediating pathways between poverty and child maltreatment provide an important implication that efforts to prevent maternal child maltreatment may be bolstered by policies and practices that need to develop services to help those mothers balance both economic and psychological well-being, especially for mothers without adequate levels of instrumental or emotional social support.

Subject Area

Social work|Criminology|Public policy

Recommended Citation

Lim, Ingul, "Poverty and maternal child maltreatment: The mediating roles of psychological distress and social support" (2010). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3424326.