Extensive research on families and parenting going back decades allows clinicians and other practitioners to assess and prescribe effective intervention strategies to support healthy children. However, because the assessments and strategies are decades old, they may become outdated in terms of language or changing demographics in the United States.
When assessment scales don’t match with intended populations, mismatches in effective intervention strategies become more likely. Researchers have long-recognized that assessments developed in the 1960s and ’70s suffer from outdated language. Recent research suggests the need for more comprehensive updating.
University of Georgia Ph.D. candidate Violeta Rodriguez has been awarded a National Institute of Mental Health grant to assess parenting practices among Black, Hispanic and Asian families. With a more diverse national sample, Rodriguez’s project will develop a reliable scale to evaluate different parenting practices.
“A lot of the research on families and parenting has been based on white, middle-class families—research that becomes the standard, because we tend to go off what we have already studied,” said Rodriguez, a fifth-year doctoral student in clinical psychology. “Even now when there is more demand to study Black, Hispanic and Asian families, we are left using white families as a standard without culturally sensitive measures.”
Without a comprehensive assessment, it is unknown whether effective parenting strategies that tend to work in white families will be as effective in nonwhite families.
Rodriguez says that one key question is whether some portions of the assessments are even considered effective, or even interpreted similarly, in all families from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Measurement invariance refers to how any given instrument is interpreted the same way across different groups of individuals. By allowing same-to-same comparisons, skills, ability, or other traits can be evaluated more accurately.
“Based on a recent review we published, that’s what we don’t know about many parenting assessments yet—without more research on nonwhite families,” Rodriguez said, noting that significant efforts and resources often follow established intervention practices that initially had a very specific demographic focus. “And before we try to encourage these parenting practices that we have already studied in white families, we want to make sure that we have a similar scale.”
Rodriguez, a Ph.D. candidate in Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of psychology, is currently a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow (2018-2021), a prestigious fellowship managed by the National Academies of Science, Medicine, and Engineering. She was awarded the PEO Scholar Award for the 2021-22 academic year. The Mental Health Research Dissertation Grant to Increase Diversity (R36) supports doctoral candidates from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral science to pursue research careers in any area relevant to the research mission of the National Institute of Mental Health.
During the two-year project, Rodriguez will collect some qualitative data from 100 families from different racial and ethnic groups, to evaluate parenting practices in different settings and revise an existing assessment of parenting, the Multidimensional Assessment of Parenting Scale (MAPS). The second year will compare the interview data to validate the scale. The COVID-19 pandemic has mandated online data collection only, a limitation that presents that added benefit of a national sample.
“Online data collection also means we’ll have more men participating – fathers tend to be under-represented in research,” she said.
“Being able to compare groups or understand cultural differences in parenting depends on having measures that function similarly for all parents, and we know that parenting research has historically marginalized many groups,” said Anne Shaffer, associate dean of the UGA graduate school and associate professor of psychology, who serves as Rodriguez’s advisor. “Violeta brings her expertise in psychometrics, the study of how we use measures in psychological research, to establish ways of assessing parenting behavior equitably. An extremely dedicated and prolific scholar, her research at UGA has focused primarily on understanding and improving the ways that we measure parenting behavior.”