Risk for maternal depression and child aggression in Early Head Start families: A test of ecological models

Neema M. Malik, Neil W. Boris, Sherryl S. Heller, Brenda Jones Harden, Jane Squires, Rachel Chazan-Cohen, Linda S. Beeber, Karen J. Kaczynski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Current literature indicates that risk for maternal depression is substantial in low-income families. A large body of research also indicates that when mothers are depressed, children are at risk for a number of developmental difficulties. While mutual influence between child and parental difficulties has been noted, few studies examine risk factors for both depression and child aggression within ecological models. The present cross-site study examined the unique and additive contributions of contextual factors, including SES and family functioning, on maternal depression and child aggression in Early Head Start families. A multiethnic sample of parents and their children, between the ages of 12 and 43 months, participated in this study. Families came from five Early Head Start programs across the United States, representing both urban and rural areas. Structural equation models (SEM) demonstrate mutual links between depression and aggression, mediated at least in part by ecological factors. SEM indicated that 36.4% of the variance in child aggression is accounted for in a model linking aggressive behavior to parent depression, stress, and couple-level functioning, as well as other family interaction variables. A second model focusing on maternal depression revealed that 44.5% of the variance in maternal depression was accounted for through family factors, including couple-related support and satisfaction and parenting stress. In this second model, child aggression was indirectly linked to maternal depression. These data have important implications for programs serving at-risk families.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)171-191
Number of pages21
JournalInfant Mental Health Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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