8 Key Factors That Affect the Stability of a Family

The 8 key factors that affect the stability of a family are neglect, substance abuse (both alcohol and drugs), lack of coping skills for the caretaker, physical abuse and sexual abuse, lack of or improper housing, behavioral issues with the child, incarceration of the parent, and abandonment. A deeper description of these factors, along with any of the drivers behind them are detailed below.
Additionally, research surrounding the Family First Prevention Services Act that was signed into law in February 2018 has been compiled. This includes data as to how it is currently being rolled out, whether states are quickly responding to it, as well as any sentiment (both negative and positive) from agencies, institutions, and/or thought leaders surrounding it.

Check out this high-level overview report where we provided information about services that are available for struggling families in the U.S.

1. Neglect

  • Traumatic experiences like abuse and neglect have an adverse effect on children’s brain development, which can lead to the overall stability of a family. Child neglect is a complicated issue that can be attributed to unhealthy relationships and environments.
  • Secure and reliable environments and caring relationships are needed to prevent child maltreatment and neglect which in turn can assure that all children can reach their full potential.
  • When parents are accused of child neglect or abuse in New York, they face an investigation by child protective workers, a potential case in family court and even the possibility of having their children removed from their care. The process can involve many months of home visits and parents may be required, or strongly encouraged, to comply with various social services, all with the aim of ensuring that children are safe at home.
  • Drivers of parental neglect can include the parent or caregiver’s substance abuse, and poverty. In fact, according to this source, 85% percent of states that report statistics for child abuse and neglect cite these two things as the top two issues related to child abuse and neglect.

2. Substance Abuse

  • Children living in a household where substance use is ubiquitous has a negative impact on children, in many ways. Parents who wrestle with substance abuse may also end up on the wrong side of the law, and be removed from the family and placed in prison. This, too, has harmful effects on children in the household and affects the stability of the family unit.
  • According to a study completed by JAMA Pediatrics, that included 17 years of data, the number of children entering foster care because of parents’ drug use has more than doubled. Increasing from 15% in 2000 to 36% in 2017, this number has risen in line with the American opioid crisis. In fact, the number of foster cases per year had been dropping in the US up until 2012, Since then, it has increased by 8%.
  • Research completed by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions reveals that families touched by substance abuse, like alcoholism, are more likely to have lower levels of emotional bonding, expressiveness and independence.

3. Lack of Caretaker Coping Skills

  • Parenting stress puts a strain on the whole family, testing patience, damaging relationships, eroding well-being.
  • For most people, an isolated family detached from all social support is simply not workable and can lead to lack of parental coping issues. Married couples that are bringing up children together, are more likely to have solid coping skills when they are embedded in strong networks of friends, family, community, and religious congregations.
  • This study revealed that parenting skills differ greatly across demographic groups. The weakest group were single mothers (44%), and they represented only three percent in the strongest category. “The lower parenting skills found among single parents in the study may not be just be related to the lack of a second parent, but to a lack of income and education as well.”

4. Physical and Sexual Abuse

  • According to the nonprofit research organization Child Trends, six percent of kids in the United States, which translates to 4.5 million children, had seen or heard parents or other adults assault each other in the home. Assaults, in this case, were defined as slapping, hitting, kicking or punching. They also revealed that four percent of kids had been exposed to or were victims of neighborhood violence.
  • The nonprofit group Center for Judicial Excellence, found that more than 650 children were killed by a parent in a “divorce, separation, custody, visitation, child support situation” from 2008 through 2018. This is evidence that when parents in an abusive relationship decide to separate, conditions for their children can become even riskier.
  • A researchers’ ability to study human brain development has advanced in leaps and bounds in the last few years. So has data on the mental health and addiction effects of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs: 10 harmful experiences or conditions, including domestic violence, tracked by health professionals.
  • When researchers studied 1,420 children in North Carolina from age 9 to 30, they discovered that being exposed to domestic violence in the home had the same serious and life-changing effects as if they had experienced the abuse directly.
  • There are numerous studies that have been done over the years that have described the many possible negative aspects to introducing unrelated adults, especially men, into children’s lives without the presence of those children’s married parents. This is because, according to that research, adults who are unrelated to children are much more likely to sexually abuse or neglect them than their own parents are.
  • One decade old federal report revealed that kids living in a household with an unrelated adult were approximately nine times more likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused than children raised in an intact nuclear family.

5. Housing Stability

  • According to this study, housing distress can force people to make hard choices between basic life necessities and paying for health care, thereby making this a factor in the stability of a family. When questioned in the focus group, the children revealed that their neighborhood environment is a large source of stress in their daily lives. This was associated with exposure to strife and unrest in their neighborhoods and schools, as well as seeing crime and police activity near their homes.
  • Housing instability encompasses a number of factors, which can include having difficulty paying rent, overcrowding, moving often, staying with friends and relatives, or spending most of any income on housing.
  • Housing quality, instability, and unaffordability endanger the well-being of millions of children across the nation, according to this source.
  • Research shows that housing is the initial step to economic opportunity. As the prices of houses continue to go up, for many people, the chasm between their rent and income increases which has resulted in almost 50% of today’s renters being cost burdened.
  • When families can’t get reasonably priced housing, fall into arrears on rent, move constantly, or experience homelessness, both children’s and parents’ health can suffer. Therefore, stable housing is necessary to a family’s health and well-being.

6. Child Behavior

  • According to research compiled by the Urban Institute in 2013, by the time American children are in 4th grade, more than one-third of them will experience a change in their parents’ relationship. This points to how instability is a very common experience in these kids’ lives.
  • Chronic instability, defined as experiencing transitions so often that instability becomes the norm, as it does for many low-income families, may create toxic stress, which increases children’s risks of all kinds of health and social problems.
  • This study found that children who start kindergarten after going through repeated household changes are more likely to manifest problem behaviors that slow learning and disrupt classrooms,
  • The same study explains that educators recognize more problematic behaviors in kids who went through higher than average levels of change, chronic change, and change in several areas all at once, even after taking family characteristics into account.

7. Parental Incarceration

  • More than 5.7 million children under-age 18, which translates to one in every 12 American kids, have experienced parental incarceration at some point during their lives.
  • According to this source, there are many negative outcomes for children as a consequence of parental incarceration. The effects include depression, anxiety, aggression, and delinquency. These outcomes vary based on circumstances such as the child’s age and how long the parent is incarcerated.
  • The effects of parental incarceration on children include material hardship and poverty, social behaviors, cognition, and stigma, and lifetime trauma.
  • According to the same source, “children of incarcerated parents are more likely to be exposed to parental substance abuse, parental mental illness, conflicts with a parent, and harsh or punitive parenting practices than their peers who don’t have a parent in prison. While these conditions may have existed even before the parent goes to prison, they magnify a child’s stress following a parent’s incarceration.”

8. Parental Abandonment

  • It is just not non-custodial parents that abandon their kids. Sometimes parents with sole custody, even those who have fought hard in court to win child custody, have also been accused of abandoning their children.
  • In the absence of both parents, children raised by their extended kin, such as an aunt or uncle, are significantly more likely to have, in the words of one study, “higher levels of internalizing problems”, including loneliness and sadness, compared to their peers raised by married parents.
  • This study found that black boys are more likely to achieve upward economic mobility if there are more black fathers in a neighborhood.

Family First Prevention Services Act

  • As part of Division E in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, President Trump signed into law the bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act, on February 9, 2018. This act incorporates long-delayed important reforms to help keep children with their families and circumvents the distressing experience of being funneled into foster care. It stresses the seriousness of children being able to stay with their own families, and helps makes sure children are placed in the most family-like setting suitable to their unique needs when foster care is truly called for. The full summary can be viewed here. If a section by section summary is preferred, that can be viewed here.
  • A high level summary can be accessed here.
  • This is a complete listing of each state and the legislative action that each state has, and is taking, surrounding the act. For example, in Kentucky, David Mead (R) sponsored legislation in 2019 that was passed that aligns state law for background checks for child serving agencies to conform to the FFPSA.
  • The Family First Prevention Services Act had overwhelming support from almost every state and the U.S. Congress. “Many child welfare experts say that group homes, even the nicest among them, are far from a perfect place for a child to grow up. Research shows that foster kids in group homes face worse outcomes, from lower educational attainment to increased rates of homelessness and criminal justice involvement.”
  • Both Florida and Ohio are among some states that have publicly disclosed plans to delay Family First implementation. They are seeking legislation that would provide a two-year bridge to Family First where the flexibility included in those waivers remains intact.
  • The Family First Prevention Services Act will cost Colorado $11.5 million which includes 7 new employees and significant data system upgrades. The issue at hand is that Colorado doesn’t have enough foster homes to fit all the children who need homes currently, and as a consequence, many of the state’s residential treatment centers and group homes are trying to figure out a new business model.
  • In early 2019 legislative discussions, Texas state leaders have turned a blind eye to the opportunities and challenges presented by the new federal Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).
  • The Texas Legislature held hearings on April 16, 2019, surrounding two bills that would support pregnant and parenting youth currently in foster care. The Committee approved HB 475 and endorsed it for the House Local and Consent Calendar, but HB 474 has been left sitting in Committee.
  • According to Pew’s Stateline, though the Family First Prevention Services Act passage did not receive major media coverage, the Family First Prevention Services Act “effectively blows up the nation’s troubled foster care system.”
  • According to John Sciamanna, vice president of public policy at the national Child Welfare League of America, “Family First, is an important step, but it’s not “a silver bullet that’s going to fix everything. In order to fund more prevention programs, the act moves money from other child welfare services (namely, group homes). There’s no new money for child welfare: over the next decade, the legislation saves federal money.”
  • Angie Schwartz, the policy program director at the California-based Alliance for Children’s Rights, states that “Family First is aimed more at preventing entries into foster care than preventing abuse and neglect.” She also noted that the act’s prevention services are only available if a child is at “imminent risk” of foster care—they’re a “candidate” for foster care—”which could mean that a child has already experienced maltreatment.”
  • Given the intricacy of the law, supporters and backers will need to pay close attention to their state’s or group’s execution efforts, including what services they will provide to preserve birth and adoptive families.
Glenn is the Lead Operations Research Analyst at The Digital Momentum with experience in research, statistical data analysis and interview techniques. A holder of degree in Economics. A true specialist in quantitative and qualitative research.

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