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Paper

Resilience in Aboriginal children and adolescents in out-of-home care: a test of an initial explanatory model

abstract

Background and introduction

The study of resilience (i.e. positive adaptation during or following adversity or serious threats to development) represents an important area of inquiry for youth in out-of-home care (e.g. foster care), both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Although they make up less than 5% of the general youth population, data suggest Aboriginal children and adolescents comprise 30-40% of young people in foster care in Canada. However, almost all out-of-home care research to date has been conducted with non-Aboriginal populations. These studies point to a heightened risk of poor outcomes (e.g. school failure, involvement with criminal justice, homelessness; or physical, developmental, and mental health problems) for youth in out-of-home care, deriving from their maltreatment history. Such risks tend to be amplified among Aboriginal young people in out-of-home care. However, evidence also suggests a substantial proportion of young people in out-of-home care experience resilience, both while in care and later, in early adulthood.

 

Purpose

This study will be among the first to focus specifically on resilience processes and outcomes in Canadian Aboriginal youth living in out-of-home care. It is hoped that this study will contribute to the knowledge base underlying child welfare programs and policies serving Aboriginal youth.

 

Methods and analysis

The study used cross-sectional data collected as part of the Looking After Children in Ontario (OnLAC) project. The OnLAC project is resilience-based; aiming to enhance the quality of substitute parenting experienced by young people in foster care and thereby improve their short-term and long-term developmental outcomes. The participant pool consisted of data collected by 23 Children's Aid Societies, in the province of Ontario, Canada from 2001-06, as part of an on-going outcome-monitoring project based on the Looking After Children (LAC) approach to improving young persons' lives. The sample was composed of 103 First Nations youths aged 10-17 years (48 females [M = 13.40 years; SD = 2.05]; 55 males [M = 13.16 years; SD = 1.92]), drawn from year five (2005-2006) of the larger OnLAC project.

 

The second Canadian adaptation of the Assessment and Action Record (AAR-C2; Flynn, Ghazal and Legault 2006) from LAC was used to collect data for the sample during 2001-06. In 2006, the AAR was mandated by the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services for use every year, with all young people who have been in foster care in Ontario for a year or more.

 

Masten's (2006) abbreviated list of behavioural factors related to resilience was used to formulate predictors. The predictors used in the present study were chosen based on research consistently identifying them as factors associated with resilience. The chosen predictors encompass child (e.g. cumulative risk), family (e.g. developmental assets) and community (e.g. First Nations cultural opportunities) levels, and were measured using cumulative risk (i.e. the sum of 18 adversities experienced by the child), the presence of 40 types of developmental assets and the identity items of the AAR-C2.

 

The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ; Goodman 1997) Pro-social and Total Difficulties scales included in the AAR-C2, were used to measure mental health outcomes. The General Self-Esteem and Education scales of the AAR-C2 were used to measure self-esteem and educational outcomes, respectively.

 

Multiple regression was used to analyze results, with the following equation: (1) step one: child's age and gender; (2) step two: child's age, gender, and cumulative risk; (3) step three: child's age, gender, cumulative risk, and First Nations cultural opportunities; and (4) step four: child's age, gender, cumulative risk, First Nations cultural opportunities, and total developmental assets.

 

Key findings

Results indicated that developmental assets consistently accounted for the most variance in all of the predictors. For the SDQ Pro-social scale, the standardized partial regression coefficients (i.e. the beta coefficients) for each of the predictor variables were as follows: age (.03, p >.05), gender (-.07, p >.05), cumulative risk (-.03, p >.05), First Nations cultural opportunities (.04, p >.05), developmental assets (.41, p <.05).

 

For the SDQ Total Difficulties scale, the standardized partial regression coefficients for each of the predictor variables were as follows: age (-.21, p <.05), gender (.02, p >.05), cumulative risk (.17 p <.05), First Nations cultural opportunities (-.21, p <.05), developmental assets (-.46, p <.05). For the AAR-C2 General Self-Esteem scale, the standardized partial regression coefficients for each of the predictor variables were as follows: age (-.03, p >.05), gender (.19, p >.05), cumulative risk (-.04, p >.05), First Nations cultural opportunities (-.03, p >.05), developmental assets (.41, p <.05). For the AAR-C2 Education scale, the standardized partial regression coefficients for each of the predictor variables were as follows: age (.01, p >.05), gender (-.00, p >.05), cumulative risk (-.13, p >.05), First Nations cultural opportunities (.12, p >.05), developmental assets (.34, p <.05).

 

Recommendations and implications

These results are very consistent with resilience theory, whereby building assets is critical to resilience. Furthermore, opportunities to participate in First Nations cultural activities were associated with lowered physical and psychological difficulties. Therefore, these findings suggest that the presence of developmental assets is crucial for positive outcomes for children and youths in out-of-home care and should be fostered within current child welfare practices. Further research is needed regarding methods to increase developmental assets.

 

References

Flynn, R.J., Ghazal, H., and Legault, L. (2006) Looking After Children: Good parenting, good outcomes, assessment and action records (second Canadian adaptation). Ottawa: Centre for Research on Community Services, University of Ottawa, and London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

 

Goodman, R. (1997) 'The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire: A research note.' Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 38, 5, 581-586.

 

Masten, A. S. (2006) 'Promoting resilience in development: A general framework for systems of care' In R.J. Flynn, P. M. Dudding, and J.G. Barber (eds) Promoting resilience in child welfare (pp. 3-17). Ottawa, ON: University of Ottawa Press.

 

Contact details

Katharine M. Filbert, M.A. Ph.D Candidate, Clinical Psychology, School of Psychology, Centre for Research on Educational and Community Services (CRSEC/CRECS), University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1N 6N5.

Tel: (613) 562 5800 ext. 4458

Email: kfilb025@uottawa.ca

 

Dr. Robert J. Flynn, Full Professor, address as above.

Tel: (613) 562 5800 ext. 1855              Fax: (613) 562 5188

Email: rflynn@uottawa.ca

 

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