Parenting Stress Among Biological, Adoptive, Foster, and Guardian Parents of Children with Prenatal and/or Environmental Substance Exposure

Kristina Kochanova


The presence of stress has been associated with unfavorable outcomes for both children and parents. Stressed parents are more likely to be negative, punitive, and withdrawn in interactions with children, which can lead to dysfunctional parent-child relationships and affect children’s development negatively 1, 2. Parental stress has been shown to be influenced by multiple sources, including characteristics of the parent and/or the child. For example, child characteristics like behavioral problems, mental illnesses, and disabilities have been associated with higher parental stress 3, 4, 5, 6. The purpose of this study was to investigate parental stress in different types of parents (biological, adoptive, foster, and guardian) of children with prenatal and/or environmental substance exposure. A sample of 209 children (60.8% males) was drawn from a larger study, which evaluated children who were prenatally and/or environmentally exposed to substances and collected data about psychological, physical, and family well being. The sample for this study was drawn based on the availability of the Parenting Stress Index (PSI-3) data and demographic information. It was predicted that adoptive parents will have higher parenting stress on the PSI-3 than biological, foster, and guardian parents. A significant effect of parent type (biological, adoptive, foster, and guardian parents) on parenting stress was found. Biological parents reported significantly greater stress on the Parent Domain and Total Stress scale than foster parents on the PSI-3. Adoptive parents reported significantly higher stress on the Child Domain than foster parents and significantly higher stress than both foster and guardian parents on the Parent Domain and the Total Stress scale of the PSI-3. The findings partially supported the hypothesis because adoptive parents did have significantly higher stress than foster and guardian parents, but not significantly higher stress than biological parents. Additional planned analyses will consider group difference within PSI subscales, as well as relations between reported stress and child substance exposure (prenatal/environmental), child diagnoses (category and total number) and length of current placement. Based on the results, it was concluded that biological and adoptive parents of children who were exposed to substances prenatally and/or environmentally reported higher stress than foster and guardian parents. To prevent unfavorable outcomes of parental stress, biological and adoptive parents of children with prenatal and/or environmental substance exposure should receive greater intervention for development of stress coping skills.


Parenting stress; Substance exposure; At-risk children

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