The role of social support in bereaved families with dependent children

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Marriage and Family Therapy


Social support, Child, Bereavement, Relationship, Parent/caregiver, Depression

Subject Categories

Family, Life Course, and Society | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Psychology | Sociology


Social support is one of the most cited factors in bereavement outcome research. However, the majority of the research on the topic has explored this variable from an individual perspective. This study utilized a family systems framework to explore the relationship between parental social support and child functioning in bereaved families. I hypothesized that higher levels of parent/caregiver social support would correlate with better functioning of their dependent children. Twenty families recruited from a bereavement program within a hospice agency in central New York completed written self-report questionnaires about child functioning (Weinberg Screening Affective Scale (WSAS); Weinberg, 1988), parent/caregiver social support (Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS); Zimet, Dahlem, Zimet & Farley, 1988), and a demographic form created for the study to capture demographic data and information related to the death the family experienced. Strong support was found for the primary research hypothesis. Regression analyses reported that parent/caregiver social support level is a significant predictor of child depression scale scores and that the demographic variables of family income level and parent/caregiver education level are positively correlated and predictive of parent/caregiver social support scores, with education level making the strongest unique contribution to the variance in social support scores. Income level did not make a statistically significant contribution to the variance in social support scores. Participation of the deceased in a hospice program, length of bereavement, and parent/caregiver age did not appear to have an effect on parent/caregiver social support scores. Parent/caregiver level of social support appears to be associated with child functioning in bereaved families. In addition, the variables of family income level and parent/caregiver education were positively correlated with social support scores. Parents/caregivers with higher family incomes and with higher levels of attained education reported higher levels of perceived social support. A primary limitation of this study is that it consisted of a small, all-female parent/caregiver sample. Further research is needed to explore the generalizability of these findings, however, the preliminary results encourage further exploration of relational interaction in the bereavement process.


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