Parent Social Networks and Children's Mental Health: Evaluating the Promise of School-Based Family Engagement Programs for Reducing Income-Based Disparities in Children's Mental Health

Alyn T. McCarty, University of Wisconsin-Madison

This paper uses quasi-experimental and experimental methods to evaluate the effect of enriching parent social networks via family engagement programs on social class inequality in children’s mental health. First, I estimate the effect of the social connections among parents with children in the same class on children's internalizing and externalizing behaviors for a national sample of 1st graders. To address potential confounding and selection bias, I develop a theoretically motivated propensity score model predicting parental social connections. Second, I explore whether family engagement programs increase parental connections in sample of 52 schools enrolled in a randomized field experiment of Families and Schools Together, a popular family engagement program. Finally, I combine statistical parameters to simulate alternative counterfactual scenarios involving the potential for family engagement programs to reduce social class inequality in children's mental health by increasing the number of social connections parents have with other parents in their school community.

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Presented in Session 83: Family structure, Social Networks, and Inequality of Opportunity