Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


The School of Social Work

Document Type



Children who grow up in disruptive environments have heightened vulnerability to psychological and behavioral difficulties, which may influence overall well-being through the course of their lives. This study combined a life course perspective with Conger’s family stress model to investigate the longitudinal associations between housing instability, primary caregiver’s mental health, parenting skills, and child internalizing/externalizing behavior problems by unpacking dynamic change from a focal child’s early childhood to adolescence in each factor.

Data came from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics and its Child Development Supplement survey. The analytic sample comprises 783 children who aged 3-7 at enrollment with consistent primary caregivers completed focal measures in each interview. Latent growth modeling was used to identify the change trajectory from child’s early childhood to adolescence in each study variable as well as examining the structural relationships between the changes in these variables. The results showed that the initial status of mental health issues could not determine long-lasting negative parenting among primary caregivers, and it was the rate of change in parenting skills, rather than the initial level of parenting skills, mediated the association between family housing status and development of child behavior problems. Moreover, the findings showed that greater housing instability predicted a higher initial level of primary caregiver’s mental health issues, which, in turn, led to a lower level of parenting skills at a child’s early childhood, thus resulting in a greater increase in child internalizing problems and lesser decrease in child externalizing problems from early childhood to adolescence.

This study is one of the first attempts to apply a theoretical framework integrating family stress model and life course perspective to explore the mediating roles of primary caregiver’s mental health and parenting skills in the relationship between housing instability and child behavior problems. It suggests strengthening housing-first policies and services that aim at helping people move from emergency/transitional housing status to stable housing in the first place. Meanwhile, it is necessary to improve primary caregiver’s mental health and parenting skills as early as possible to prevent the adverse influence of housing instability on the trajectories of child behavioral development.



Committee Chair

Livermore, Michelle M.