The Relationship Between Protective Factors and Outcomes for Children Investigated for Maltreatment

Published in: Child abuse and neglect, v. 33, no. 10, Oct. 2009, p. [684]-698

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2009

by Dana Schultz, Shannah Tharp-Gilliam, Amelia Haviland, Lisa H. Jaycox

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OBJECTIVES: This research explores the relationship between hypothesized protective factors and outcomes for children investigated for maltreatment. METHODS: Using data from the National Survey on Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), the authors ran logistic regression models to examine the relationship between hypothesized protective factors (social competence, adaptive functioning skills, and peer relationships) and outcomes (externalizing behavior, internalizing behavior, reading competence). RESULTS: For each hypothesized protective factor, the authors found variation in individual scores and sample mean scores at the lower end of the scales, indicating that these children fare worse than most children. However, many children experienced large changes in their individual scores over time suggesting that children can and do improve on these hypothesized protective factors. In examining the relationship between hypothesized protective factors and outcomes, children with higher levels of social competence were significantly more likely to be in the normal range for both externalizing and internalizing behaviors. Children with higher mean adaptive functioning skills were more likely to be in the normal range for both externalizing behavior and reading competence. The positive nature of the child's peer relationships was also related to externalizing behavior and reading competence. CONCLUSIONS: Overall, our analyses support the idea that social competence, adaptive functioning skills, and peer relationships are related to outcomes for children investigated for maltreatment. While further research is needed to establish a causal link, this work identifies three individual-level hypothesized protective factors as potential sources of variation in outcomes. PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: To prevent or alleviate the harmful consequences maltreatment, it is necessary to understand factors that help children move beyond poor outcomes. Our analyses suggest that a strong relationship exists between a child's social competence, adaptive functioning skills and positive peer relationships and select outcomes three years after being investigated for maltreatment. With these individual-level protective factors related to more positive outcomes, it suggests that intervening to increase protective factors could improve outcomes for maltreated and at-risk children.

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