Do Maternal and Paternal Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Predict Treatment Outcomes for Children Exposed to Violence?

Heather J. Risser, Adam M. Messinger, Deborah Ann Fry, Leslie L. Davidson, Paul A. Schewe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This study examined whether having a parent with a mental illness or a parent who abuses substances predicts treatment outcomes for children receiving community-based services for exposure to violence. From 2001 to 2011, data were collected from 492 children from one-and-a-half to seven years old and their primary caregivers enrolled in Safe From the Start services. Results indicated significant improvements pre-intervention to post-intervention in child emotional and behavioural problems, as measured by the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). One-way bivariate analyses indicated that children of mothers or fathers with a mental illness and children of mothers who abused substances had higher CBCL scores at intake. Repeated-measures analyses of variance revealed a main effect such that maternal and paternal mental illness and maternal substance abuse were associated with poorer CBCL scores. The only parental risk factor to moderate the association between treatment and CBCL scores was paternal mental illness. Treatment was associated with greater improvement in CBCL scores for children of fathers with, relative to those without, mental illness, and the effect was due to higher CBCL scores at intake for children of fathers with mental illness rather than lower outcome scores. Results suggest that Safe From the Start services which provide early intervention can be effective in improving children's emotional and behavioural functioning. Additionally, the effectiveness of services appears to be robust to parental risk factors such as mental illness and substance abuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)221-236
Number of pages16
JournalChild Care in Practice
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Health(social science)
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics
  • Community and Home Care


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