The current study examined the psychometric properties of the FMSS in the context of homelessness with a focus on validating scores based on the FMSS with observed parenting and providing information on how different aspects of the FMSS relate to parenting and child adjustment. Our findings should be interpreted with caution due to small sample size. Parents' criticism (Magaña et al., 1986
), largely based on one or two comments in this sample, was the most efficient correlate of observed parenting, even with only minimal speech provided. Warmth and negative affect (Caspi et al., 2004
) were important correlates of parenting and children's school adjustment, respectively, when more speech was available. A composite of positive statements (Kaugars et al., 2007
) did not relate to parenting or child adjustment in this sample.
This study provides preliminary evidence that aspects of EE, including expressions of warmth, are valid correlates of observed parenting in sheltered families. Homeless parents who were more critical about their children engaged in less positive and more coercive parenting behaviors, even given the limitation of minimal speech to measure criticism. Importantly, not all homeless parents were critical about their children; rather, criticism may be one factor that differentiates the quality of observed parenting in homeless families. Warmth also was related to more positive and effective parenting practices, and negative affect was related to more coercive and less positive parenting, but only for parents who spoke for at least 2.5 min. For affect scores based on the FMSS to be valid markers of parenting, longer durations may be necessary.
Negative affect in the longer speech samples also related to reports of children's worse adjustment, including more externalizing problems and teacher-child conflict and less prosocial behavior towards peers. Contrary to past findings (Peris & Hinshaw, 2003
), criticism was not related to externalizing problems in this sample. It is possible that parents' negative affect was a more salient risk factor for very high-risk children's behavior problems and relationships with teachers and peers. Alternatively, cultural differences may exist in the meaning of parental criticism within African-American families (Rosenfarb, Bellack, & Aziz, 2006
). However, it is also possible that the current study's small sample precluded a replication with criticism and children's externalizing problems. These findings need to be replicated in a larger sample.
The finding that FMSS duration varied across parents warrants discussion. Some parents may have been unprepared or unaccustomed to providing open-ended commentaries or hesitant to share information about their children with strangers. To maintain rapport in this stressful environment, evaluators permitted parents to stop the FMSS when they desired. However, with high-risk samples and young children, it may be important to consider using additional open-ended queries (Sandberg, Rutter, & Jarvi, 2004
) along with the standard prompts (Magaña-Amato, 1993
). This practice may be helpful for impoverished families with young children and parents who may be hesitant to talk with only minimal prompts. For some parents in this sample, decreased verbal ability also may have related to shorter speech samples. Future FMSS research in high-risk samples could control for aspects of parents' intellectual functioning.
It is also noteworthy that parents who reported they were more distressed talked longer about their children, although they were not more critical than less distressed parents. These parents may have been more forthcoming or insightful about reporting distress, inclined to elaborate about their children, or more in need of expressing their emotions. Future investigators using the FMSS with very disadvantaged families could also examine the potential significance of individual differences in personality or emotional status for parents' speech duration.
This study had a number of strengths. To our knowledge it is the first to examine the psychometric properties of the FMSS in predominantly African-American, sheltered families with independent ratings of FMSS scores and observed parenting, and multi-informant data. It also highlighted that aspects of EE, such as criticism, may be valid with less than five minutes of speech. Furthermore, while studies have emphasized the predictive utility of parents' criticism and negative affect for child adjustment (Caspi et al., 2004
; Peris & Hinshaw, 2003
), few have examined how positive aspects of the FMSS relate to effective parenting. In disadvantaged families, parents' warmth about children may be a promising indicator of positive parenting, identified as a protective factor in impoverished contexts (Conger et al., 2002
and Elder et al., 1995
; Masten, 2007
Primary limitations of this study included small sample size and variability in duration of speech samples. Additional important limitations involved sample characteristics, missing data, and inability to control for multiple comparisons. The sample was drawn from a single shelter, clearly limiting generalizability. Teacher data were missing for 11 children who could not be located in schools even with assistance from local districts, likely due to their families' high residential mobility. Assessments were essentially cross-sectional with short-term outcomes in school. Longitudinal data in larger representative samples of homeless families would provide insight into directional relations among FMSS scores, observed parenting, and child behavior.
In summary, this study provided novel and promising yet preliminary information about the psychometric properties of the FMSS in predominantly minority, sheltered families with young children. Parents' criticism from the FMSS provided a useful and brief gauge of emotions that related to negative interactions with children, and its utility held with less than five minutes of speech. Our results also provided preliminary evidence that parents' negative affect related to aspects of homeless children's school adjustment. Clinicians working with high-risk families and policy-makers seeking to promote parenting could use the FMSS as an efficient, effective tool for understanding how parents' emotions towards children relate to parenting and child behavior.
Future research can further delineate the potential and limitations of the FMSS in relation to other methodologies that assess parenting and child competence over time and with specific populations. For homeless and other families in crisis or distress, additional information is needed on the stability of FMSS scores, the longer-term predictive validity, and the ways in which parents' emotional functioning and distress may influence how they complete the FMSS.