Date of Award

1995

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology

Department

Psychology

First Advisor

Janet Kulberg

Abstract

Approximately 50% of all American children and adolescents are currently at risk for developing personal and social problems (Weissberg, 1990). As a nation, how are we responding to this situation? Under the large umbrella of educational reform one option being debated is removing at-risk children living in poverty from their homes and placing them in residential educational facilities. Despite the rhetoric being exchanged, little empirical evidence exists that directly investigates the effects of removing children and adolescents from their homes.

This study investigated the protective and risk factors associated with the resiliency, achievement, and adjustment of adolescents from low income home environments attending a residential school. The first question examined what combination of protective/risk factors predict adolescent achievement. The second question explored the ability of various protective/risk factors to predict membership into an academic/behavioral protective or at-risk group. The third question examined the relationship among intraindividual factors and perceived adjustment to the residential school. Content analysis of two survey questions also revealed themes relevant to the adjustment process and feelings about being at a residential school.

Results of the study supported the resiliency literature that attributes the adolescent resiliency trajectory to the combination and interaction of various intraindividual, familial, and contextual factors. Gender-difference findings suggest that possibly male and female adolescents are differentially affected by the interactions of various protective/risk variable combinations. The female students performed better than their male classmates on general cognitive ability, and academic achievement, effort, and conduct. Conversely, male students experienced significantly more difficulty across behavioral categories; they accumulated more residential disciplines and more academic detention points in comparison to their female classmates.

Another finding addressed the value of relationships and the necessity of familial and school supportive systems to promote adolescent achievement, adjustment, and resiliency. Results revealed the importance family plays in adolescent resiliency. Attending a residential school appeared to be related to other familial and contextual factors, the students who attend the school for a longer period of time visit more frequently with family members.

The most salient theme that emerged was the importance of familial and contextual factors on the adjustment, achievement, and resiliency of adolescents, particularly as related to relationships and supportive systems. Clearly, adolescents respond in the direction of resiliency when the protective factors of family and school supportive systems are a part of the adolescents' lives. In combination with other protective factors influencing their development, adolescents who have supportive systems appear to be on a trajectory toward resiliency.

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