Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology

First Advisor

Omar G. Gudino, Ph.D.


Child abuse and neglect, Child maltreatment, Child welfare, Mental health, School engagement, School functioning


Objective: Youth involved with the child welfare system are at significant risk of poor school functioning and mental health. Little research has explored how the connection to school impacts known relationships between adversity and youth outcomes. The following project sought to shed light on the role of schools in conferring risk or resilience for youth in contact with the child welfare system, with regard to their mental health. The overall aims of this project were to (1) improve our conceptualization of school adaptation, with particular attention to individual variation along multiple dimensions of school adaptation, (2) examine the relationship of school adaptation to important child welfare indicators, and (3) explore the impact of school adaptation on youth mental health.

Method: Participants included 2,668 youth (age 4 to 16 at baseline) participating in a national longitudinal study of youth in contact with the child welfare system following an investigation for alleged maltreatment. Youth, teachers, caregivers, and caseworkers provided relevant information at baseline, 18 months, and 36 months. Patterns among a variety of school adaptation indicators were determined via latent profile analysis, relationships between latent profiles and child welfare risk factors were determined using multinomial logistic regression, and relationships between latent profiles and later mental health were explored using hierarchal regression.

Results: Latent profile analysis supported the interpretation of four profiles of school adaptation in this sample, including a high overall adaptation group, a moderate overall adaptation with somewhat poor behavior group, a low overall adaptation with poor behavior group, and a low overall adaptation with good behavior and low emotional/cognitive engagement group. Aim 2 revealed that school adaptation profiles were related to some demographic variables, but were largely independent of child welfare indicators. Child age and gender predicted profile membership such that girls demonstrated better school adaptation overall than boys, and younger youth demonstrated better school adaptation overall than older youth. Race, alleged type of maltreatment investigated, and substantiation of maltreatment did not significantly predict profile membership. Caseworker reported severity of maltreatment predicted profile membership overall, but differences between groups were not significant. Aim 3 revealed that maltreatment severity and profile membership predicted youth mental health functioning three years later, such that youth in the lowest adaptation group (low overall adaptation with poor behavior) demonstrated the highest symptomology, youth in the high overall adaptation group demonstrated the lowest symptomology, and youth in both the moderate overall adaptation with somewhat poor behavior group and the low overall adaptation with good behavior and low emotional/cognitive engagement group, did not significantly differ from each other and demonstrated mental health problems between the highest and lowest adaptation groups.

Conclusions: The results of the current study demonstrate that school adaptation is a nuanced construct which is not well-represented by a single indicator, or average score of multiple indicators, of the ways in which youth interface with school. Nonetheless, school adaptation is an important factor to consider in order to understand the future mental health of youth in the high-risk group of children and adolescents involved with child welfare services. Implications of the findings and limitations of the current study are discussed.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.

Rights Holder

Skyler Leonard


Received from ProQuest

File Format




File Size

101 p.


Clinical psychology, Education