Social Information Processing Factors and Economic Stress in Disadvantaged Rural Fathers: Informing Child Maltreatment Prevention with an Understudied Parent Population

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Miller, Elizabeth Ann
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
June 30, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Sandra T Azar, Dissertation Advisor
  • Sandra T Azar, Committee Chair
  • Martha Ellen Wadsworth, Committee Member
  • Gregory M Fosco, Committee Member
  • David R Johnson, Outside Member
  • fathers
  • child maltreatment
  • unintentional injuries
  • parenting
  • social cognition
  • executive functioning
Child maltreatment is a critical concern in rural communities, where children are nearly twice as likely as their urban peers to experience maltreatment. Fathers perpetrate a substantial proportion of maltreatment cases and are overrepresented as perpetrators of severe physical abuse and fatalities. Despite this heightened risk, little research has examined parenting risk among fathers in rural areas. The current study examined the contributions of social information processing (SIP) factors, economic stress, and work stress to multiple indicators of parenting risk in a sample of 61 disadvantaged rural fathers of 2-6 year-old children. Findings highlight the importance of fathers’ cognition and economic stress in children’s risk for neglect and unintentional injuries. Results for the SIP model of parenting risk provide some support for the extension of this model to fathers. Unrealistic expectations for children and poorer executive functioning (EF) were associated with more maladaptive injury prevention beliefs, which were associated with children’s medically attended injuries. Fathers with self-reported histories of Child Protective Services (CPS) involvement exhibited significantly poorer EF and problem-solving than comparison fathers, but did not differ in expectations or attributions for children’s behavior. With regard to economic stress, fewer economic resources were associated with greater child abuse potential, more inconsistent parenting, and poorer quality home environments, while less economic security was associated with greater child abuse potential. CPS-involved fathers had less economic resources than comparisons, but did not differ in economic security. Greater work demands were significantly associated with greater child abuse potential and more positive punitive discipline beliefs, although effects were small. Exploratory analyses found evidence for independent additive effects of SIP and economic stress and no evidence of indirect or interaction effects. Implications for preventing child maltreatment are discussed.