The impact of post-traumatic stress symptoms and protective factors on transition factors for youth investigated for maltreatment during adolescence
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Approximately 402,378 of children in the United States received foster care services, and over 1 million received in-home services in 2013 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau, 2015). All of these children are considered child welfare involved, and adolescents are a sub-group of this population at increased vulnerability. Youth experience multiple adversities prior to entering the foster care system, challenging experiences while in the foster care system, and difficulties related to aging out of care (Miller, 2009; Stott, 2013). Building upon developmental psychopathology and resiliency theory, this study utilized structural equation modeling (SEM) to analyze relations among risk and protective factors in predicting outcomes for adolescents involved in the child welfare system. It was hypothesized that post-traumatic stress and protective factors would mediate the effects of trauma and foster care involvement on adolescents’ scores for school achievement and independent living skills. Using a large national survey of child welfare involved youth, a sample of 818 adolescents between the ages of 12-16 years old at baseline was assessed. Results of this study were consistent with resiliency research highlighting the influence of protective factors (e.g. school effort and engagement; closeness, positive relationship, spends time with and talking about school with caregiver) on adolescents’ school achievement and independent living skills. The presence of protective factors significantly directly impacted adolescent outcomes and mediated the effect of post-traumatic stress symptoms on the outcome variables. These results have significant implications for research and practice with adolescents involved in child welfare.