Adolescent mothers and their infants: A home-based crisis prevention effort

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Alice Sterling Honig


Psychotherapy, Developmental psychology, Preschool education

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society


Adolescent mothers were recruited from a local hospital and from a local social service agency to participate with their newborn infants in a home visitation program. Broad curriculum components for the home visits included: increasing maternal sensitivity and responsivity to infant cues, offering activity ideas for infants and their mothers, helping parents to learn the importance of secure infant attachment, and supporting parents' own strengths and ideas. Using Fraiberg's techniques, the home visitor encouraged mothers to reflect on their thoughts about their infants, themselves, and parenthood.

Forty-six adolescent mother-infant pairs were randomly assigned to either a control group or to an experimental group. Experimental group mothers received weekly home visits for three months. A post-program follow visit was made two months after program end. Control group participants received three visits: at program entry, immediately post program, and two months post program.

Feeding, play, and teaching episodes were videotaped across the three time periods. in addition to mother-infant interaction assessments, adolescent mothers completed a social support measure, as well as an early experiences interview, based on their recollections of events during childhood.

Results indicated no significant differences between experimental and control groups as a function of program participation.

However, maternal reflectivity about her own, past family experiences, as assessed through an early experiences interview, was found to be significantly associated with more sensitive current parenting practices.

Based on clinical observations and detailed home visit notes, the investigator identified mothers at particular high risk for negative parenting practices. This clinical diagnosis was made mid-program independent of other assessments, and prior to the assessments of mother-infant interactions. Mothers classified as high risk scored consistently lower on measures of maternal sensitivity, maternal responsivity, cognitive growth fostering skills, and social and emotional growth fostering skills.

The program experienced a high attrition rate, particularly in the control group. Control group teenage mothers who had been clinically identified as high risk for negative parenting practices had a disproportionately high drop out rate. Implications for research design and the importance of building Eriksonian trust to decrease attrition rates are discussed.


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