This brief offers a first-time national look at the characteristics, access to services, and parenting approaches for infants living in poverty whose mothers are depressed. Results reveal that eleven percent of infants living in poverty have a mother suffering from severe depression. At the same time, many of these families are connected to services, such as WIC, health care services, food stamps, and TANF, presenting opportunities for policymakers and service providers to help these families. The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation funded this research as part of an Urban Institute project identifying service strategies to help connect depressed mothers with treatment.
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Depression in parents poses serious risks to millions of children in the United States each day, yet very often goes
undetected and untreated. The risk can be very great for babies and toddlers, who are completely dependent on their parents for nurturing, stimulation, and care?and for poor families that do not have the resources to cope with depression. But depression is treatable and opportunities to reach these families and connect them to help already exist within multiple systems.
In this brief, we take a first-time national look at the characteristics, access to services, and parenting approaches for infants living in poverty whose mothers are depressed (we focus on mothers as they are often the primary caregivers). We also identify current service systems that could intervene and help depressed mothers find support.
Summary of Key Findings
- Eleven percent of infants living in poverty have a mother suffering from severe depression.
- Evidence suggests that depression can interfere with parenting, potentially leading to poor child development—setbacks that are particularly devastating during infancy.
- Compared with their peers with nondepressed mothers, infants living in poverty with severely depressed mothers are more likely to have mothers who also struggle with
domestic violence and substance abuse, and who report being only in fair health.
- Infants living in poverty with depressed mothers receive similar prenatal care as their peers whose mothers are not depressed, but they are breastfed for shorter periods
- Even though depression is treatable, many severely depressed mothers do not receive care.
- Many depressed mothers living in poverty are already connected to services, such as WIC, health care services, food stamps, and TANF. Every contact is an opportunity to identify depression and help parents seek treatment.
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