Worrying times for adolescents

Although worrying is a normal response to an anticipated threat, excessive worry can be problematic. A new article in the British Journal of Health Psychology analyses the development of worry throughout childhood.

The authors used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a longitudinal population-based cohort study that enrolled pregnant women in 1991 and 1992. Mothers completed self-report questionnaires on their child’s development and health at regular intervals, including on their child’s level of worry and the impact on daily functioning at age 7, 10, and 13.

All reported analyses were conducted on the sample of mothers who completed the questionnaire at all three ages (N = 2,227), and the authors took the mothers’ own anxiety levels into account. Mothers reported a peak of worrisome thoughts in their children at age 10. Emotional disruption was highest at 10, and the highest level of interference in daily life was observed at 13, especially for girls. Advanced pubertal status and worry frequency were positively associated for boys at 10 and girls at 13. Advanced puberty at 10 was also associated with overall higher worry frequency and emotional disruption.

The authors conclude that their findings align with existing research on patterns of childhood depression, but note that the generalisability and validity of the results might be restricted by the sole reliance on mothers’ reports of child worry.

Source: The Development of Worry Throughout Childhood: Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children Data (2015), British Journal of Health Psychology.

Alleviating parental depression

A new article published in BMC Health Services Research looks at the impact of the Incredible Years (IY) parenting programmes on parental depression and service use. IY aims to reduce conduct disorder in children and depression in their parents, two issues that are often apparent in the same family. Recent trials in the UK and Ireland have focused on the effects of the programme on children, but less was known about the effects on parents.

The authors explored parental depression and service use (and the associated costs) after attending a 12-week, group-based IY Basic Parenting programme. They conducted a secondary analysis of data gathered in a randomised controlled trial (RCT) of the programme. The original RCT sample consisted of 153 (Intervention N=104, Control N=49) parents of children aged 3–4 years old (at baseline) living in 11 disadvantaged Sure Start areas in north and mid Wales.

Depression scores were compared over time for the intervention and control groups. The authors found that parental depression decreased at six months for both the intervention and control groups; however, this decrease was only significant for the intervention group. The differences between intervention and control groups were not significant.

The article also looked at service use costs (primary services such as GPs and health visitors; social services; and hospital services). The parents in the trial accessed a high number of services, particularly in primary health. Total mean costs of service use for the intervention group increased at six and eighteen months post-baseline; however, costs decreased at twelve months post-baseline. Parents who scored above the “clinical level” of self-reported depression in both the intervention and control groups accessed more health and social services than those who were below the clinical level for concern.

Source: Parental Depression and Child Conduct Problems: Evaluation of Parental Service Use and Associated Costs After Attending the Incredible Years Basic Parenting Programme (2014), BMC Health Services Research, 13.

Maternal depression and the development of conduct disorder in children

There is a strong association between maternal depression and the development of conduct disorder in children. This study, published in Psychology, examined the impact of maternal depression on treatment to prevent child conduct disorder. There are a number of skill deficits commonly associated with depression that have also been shown to describe parents of conduct problem children. These include poor problem solving and an inability to recall specific events.

The researchers analysed the problem using data from a randomised controlled trial of a parenting programme for parents of high-risk three- and four-year-old children. They found that improvement in maternal depression was a significant partial mediator of improvement in child behaviour. This implies that parenting interventions for the prevention of conduct disorder are more likely to improve child behaviour if they also address the skill deficits associated with maternal depression.

Source: Improvements in maternal depression as a mediator of child behavioral change (2012), Psychology, 3(9)

More evidence on persistent poverty and child outcomes

A new research paper for Policy and Politics, co-written by the Institute for Effective Education’s Kathleen Kiernan, provides further evidence that persistent poverty has a greater effect on children’s cognitive development than intermittent poverty. This article uses longitudinal data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study to examine the developmental contexts and outcomes of persistently poor children and identify potential resiliency factors.

The results show that as well as having more disadvantageous developmental contexts, persistently poor children also have worse cognitive and behavioural outcomes than children in poverty for shorter periods. The analyses point to the need for programmes that positively impact on maternal depression and the parent-child relationship which may be particularly important for improving the life chances of these very disadvantaged children.

Source: Persistent poverty and children’s development in the early years of childhood (2013), Policy and Politics, 41(1).