The Prevention Intervention Research Center at Arizona State University is currently conducting a five-year research project led by ASU Faculty Research Associate Tim Ayers in collaboration with researchers at George Washington and Johns Hopkins universities.
Researchers are examining 200 families in the Baltimore, Maryland area to learn how children, ages 9-14, are affected when a parent loses their job.
The multi-site collaborative study is funded by a $2.5 million National Institute of Mental Health grant and will be completed in 2005.
Until recently, the booming national economy had put the breaks on the research which had been in progress for a couple of years.
Ayers said the study is designed to help researchers understand which children are most at-risk for developing negative behavior and emotional problems as a result of a parental job loss.
By identifying specific coping mechanisms that families use in dealing with the stress of unemployment may pinpoint important levers that increase or decrease the child's risk. Positive levers can then be incorporated into prevention programs to reduce the negative effects of stress.
As an addition to the original data collection now in process, Ayers says his research is a continuation of a series of previous studies that looked at how the disruption of joblessness affects the job seeker and his or her partner or spouse.
"We believe the disruption goes much deeper to impact the entire family," he says. "We are interested in learning how to help families as they transition through this stressful time. It's not just the job loss itself that proves to be stressful to kids. It's the cascade of stressors that follow. How parents react to these events and communicate them to their kids may assist the children in learning how to cope with these stressors."
For example, Ayers says a parental job loss can disrupt kids in various ways, from a sudden curb in spending habits to facing a possible relocation, or by leading to a family 's dysfunction. Learning how to deal with these stressors in a positive way can ultimately help the family pull together in discouraging times, and prevent children from acting out in negative ways that could by itself add to the family's stress.