Master's Project Title:

The Association of Children’s Special Health Care Needs and Parental Mental Health: Implications for the Field of Maternal and Child Health (Culminating Experience Project)

MCH Student:

Sarah Cox

Date of Defense:

April 17, 2017


When working with families, it is imperative to understand the challenges they experience so their needs can better be met. One such challenge is poor parental mental health or mental illness. Parental mental illness not only poses developmental, emotional, and physical health risks on children, but also impacts the functioning of the whole family. The purpose of this study was to examine whether there is an association between children’s special health care needs and poor parental mental health. Using data from the 2011/2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, the study looked at a sample of 69,827 children in two-parent households. Polytomous logistic regression analyses were utilized to determine whether parents of children with special health needs (CSHCN) were at higher odds of reporting poor mental health compared to parents without a CSHCN. Attenuation of the association based on sociodemographic, child-related, and parent-related factors was also studied. 17.9% of children in the sample had a special health care need, and both parents reported poor mental health in 2.2% of households. Two-parent households with CSHCN had 78% higher odds of both parents reporting poor mental health as compared to households without a CSHCN (OR 1.78, 95% CI: 1.38-2.30). This association was confounded by sociodemographic and child-related factors, but parent-related factors did not influence the association beyond the child-related factors. The findings of the current study suggest the importance of focusing on parental mental health when developing programs and improving systems for CSHCN and their families.