studies of adoption, and intervention studies are among the approaches that can be enormously useful; we rely on these when we can in this discussion of disruptions in parenting and in the following section on efforts to improve parenting, but they are seldom a panacea. Finally, this discussion focuses on the role of environmental influences deriving from parenting on individual differences among children. Equally important questions about why overall rates of particular childhood behaviors may be rising or falling (e.g., Is the increase in childhood poverty associated with increasing rates of maternal depression and, if so, is increased depression leading to higher rates of childhood disorders?) are not addressed, in large measure because there are virtually no data on secular trends in the relevant young child outcomes.

Early Development and Maternal Depression

A variety of methods have been used to assess maternal depression, ranging from self-reports to clinical diagnoses. They typically gather information about the mother's mood as well as other symptoms of depression, such as sleep disturbances, difficulties with concentration, loss of motivation, and appetite changes (Campbell et al., 1995). Approximately 1 in 10 women with young children experience depression (Dickstein et al., 1998b; Gelfand et al., 1996), with prevalence rates often reaching two times these levels among mothers living in poverty.1 Descriptive data from several recent studies of welfare samples have identified rates of moderate to severe depression in the 13 to 28 percent range (Danziger et al., in press; Lennon et al., 1998; Moore et al., 1995; Olson and Pavetti, 1996). These high prevalence rates are cause for concern about the effects of maternal depression on young children. This focus for this discussion, however, is not meant to minimize the need for societal attention to other forms of mental illness that can disrupt parenting (e.g., anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, alcoholism).

Compared with children of nondepressed mothers, those with depressed mothers show greater risk of developing socioemo-tional and behavior problems, which translate into difficulties in school, poor peer relationships, reduced ability for self-control, and aggression (Campbell et al., 1995, Cummings and Davies, 1994b, Dawson and Ashman, in press; Zeanah et al., 1997). Children of depressed parents are also at heightened risk of serious psychopathology (Cummings and Davies, 1994b; Downey

1  

Prevalence rates vary widely from one study to the next, depending on the measure of depression used and the population being studied, with some as low as 12 percent and others as high as 55 percent (Lennon et al., 1998; Wolf et al., submitted).



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