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Buffering Child Maltreatment: School Connectedness as a Protective Factor in a Community Sample of Young Adults

Goldstine-Cole, Krista – 2020

Child maltreatment is common in the United States: while the child protection system substantiates over 680,000 cases each year, there is clear evidence that a significant portion of abuse and neglect is never referred. Identified or not, maltreatment increases the risk for substance abuse disorder, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder across the lifespan. This study examined whether school connectedness (SC), the sense of belonging at school derived from affective relationships in the school context and commitment to learning, protects against such effects. Specifically, in paper one, data from 349 young adults who completed the Protective Factor Questionnaire was used to develop a retrospective five-indicator measurement model of school connectedness for K-12 and elementary, middle and high school. The grade level models were longitudinally invariant, with omegas ranting from 0.85 for elementary school to 0.82 for high school. Paper two evaluates SC as a protective factor in the relationship between childhood maltreatment and mental well-being at ages 18-25. Results indicated that SC buffers against the MACE Score for intrafamilial maltreatment as well four individual forms of abuse and neglect. Time-dependent analysis found that SC protects against concurrent as well as past and future maltreatment. Elementary school connectedness emerged as the most powerful protective factor. These results suggest that schools have roles beyond that of mandated reporter in supporting the well-being of maltreated children. (Author abstract)