Session: Promoting Healthy Functioning in Low-Income and Distressed Families: Methodological Advances and Substantive Findings from Preventive Interventions (Society for Prevention Research 24th Annual Meeting)

3-032 Promoting Healthy Functioning in Low-Income and Distressed Families: Methodological Advances and Substantive Findings from Preventive Interventions

Thursday, June 2, 2016: 1:15 PM-2:45 PM
Grand Ballroom C (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
Theme: Development and Testing of Interventions
Symposium Organizer:
Meghan McCormick
Philip & Carolyn Cowan
Family interactions marked by destructive conflict, low-quality communication, and low levels of satisfaction increase the risk of economic, physical, and psychological difficulties for all family members and also predict emotional challenges for children (e.g., Troxel & Matthews, 2004). A number of family-strengthening interventions – implemented and tested in small samples and at-scale -- have been developed to prevent such destructive interactions and promote healthy family functioning (Cowan et al., 2014). These programs typically target the quality of daily family functioning and have been linked to improvements in average levels of relationship quality and satisfaction (Hsueh et al., 2012; Zemp et al., 2015). Yet, few studies have considered whether family-strengthening interventions improve daily functioning in samples of low-income and distressed families. In addition, little is known about the mediators and moderators that explain program impacts on family functioning within diverse samples.

The proposed symposium addresses these limitations by drawing on comprehensive longitudinal data and leveraging advances in research methodology. Paper 1 uses diary data to examine the impacts of one family-strengthening intervention on daily experiences of severe conflict within a sample of low-income families. Findings demonstrate that the intervention decreased the severity of conflicts between mothers and fathers. Program participation also buffered the negative daily effects of stress and anger on severe conflict. Paper 2 then examines impacts of the same intervention in a larger sample of low-income families. The study tests whether intervention impacts were mediated by observational assessments of relationship communication and whether any such effects were moderated by family distress. Results revealed impacts of the intervention on mothers’ and fathers’ marital satisfaction thirty months after program participation. Impacts were driven by the low-income couples in the sample who reported the highest levels of distress at baseline. Finally, Paper 3 uses survey and diary data to determine whether sub-clinical levels of psychopathology moderated effects of a different intervention – the Family Communication Project – on constructive and destructive conflict perceived by adolescent children. Impacts were largest among children of depressed fathers and mothers, suggesting that psychopathology may be an intervening factor explaining program efficacy.

An expert developer and evaluator of family-strengthening interventions will then discuss the papers. Findings will be discussed in light of large-scale policy interventions focused on improving family functioning within low-income and distressed families.

* noted as presenting author
Can Family-Strengthening Programs Improve Low-Income Parents' Dynamic Functioning? Evidence from a Daily Diary Study
Meghan McCormick, PhD, MDRC; JoAnn Hsueh, PhD, MDRC; Christine Merrilees, PhD, State University of New York College at Geneseo; Patricia Chou, BA, MDRC; E. Mark Cummings, PhD, University of Notre Dame
Effects of Relationship Education on Couple Communication and Satisfaction: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial with Low-Income Couples
Hannah Williamson, MA, University of California, Los Angeles; JoAnn Hsueh, PhD, MDRC; Thomas Bradbury, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles
Maladjustment As an Intervening Variable in Program Efficacy: Examining a Program to Improve Communication in Community Families
Kathleen Bergman, PhD, University of Notre Dame; E. Mark Cummings, PhD, University of Notre Dame; Jennifer Cummings, PhD, University of Notre Dame; Abbie Downer, BA, University of Notre Dame