Poverty, social exclusion, and mental health: the role of the family context in children aged 7-11 years INMA mother-and-child cohort study

Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2021 Jul 26. doi: 10.1007/s00787-021-01848-w. Online ahead of print.


Mental health problems are common in childhood and tend to be more frequent in populations at risk of poverty or social exclusion (AROPE). The family environment can play a role in reducing the impact of economic hardship on these problems. The aim of this study was to assess the effect of multidimensional poverty on the mental health of children aged 7-11 years and the role of the family environment in two areas of Spain. Participants were 395 and 382 children aged 7 and 11 from Gipuzkoa and Valencia, respectively. Internalizing and externalizing problem scales of the child behaviour checklist (CBCL) were used. AROPE indicators were obtained by questionnaire, and three dimensions of the family context (Organization of the Physical Environment and Social Context, Parental Stress and Conflict, and Parental Profile Fostering Development) were measured through subscales 3, 4 and 5 of the Haezi-Etxadi family assessment scale (7-11) (HEFAS 7-11), respectively. Data were analysed using negative binomial regression and Structural Equation Modelling. AROPE prevalence was 7.1 and 34.5% in Gipuzkoa and Valencia, respectively. In both cohorts, there was a significant increase in internalizing and externalizing problems among participants with a higher AROPE score. However, AROPE did not affect internalizing problems in children from families living in a better physical environment and with social support (Subscale 3). The AROPE effect was jointly mediated by subscales 4 and 5 in 42 and 62% of internalizing and externalizing problems, respectively. Preventing economic inequities by economic compensation policies, improving the neighbourhood and immediate environment around the school, and promoting positive parenting programmes can improve mental health in childhood.

Keywords: Externalizing problems; Family context; Internalizing problems; Poverty.