Youth living under the poverty line experience greater degrees of risk and adversity leading to difficulties in multiple domains of development including academic achievement. Poor academic achievement in high-risk youth creates a significant lifelong burden, including higher rates of chronic health problems, disproportionate participation in juvenile justice and mental health systems, lower high school graduation rates, and un- and underemployment in adulthood. Although the role of executive function (EF) has been established as a protective factor among high-risk youth, research lacks an understanding of the role of other factors including social, emotional, and behavioral regulation and functioning, and how these factors interact with EF. This information is essential to determine how best to intervene to improve outcomes. This project will further our knowledge through two specific aims.
Specific Aim One will evaluate the unique and cumulative contribution of risk and adversity by dose, duration, and timing on developmental domains including executive functioning, behavioral and emotional regulation, social function, and academic achievement. We hypothesize adversity will have a greater, negative effect compared to risk alone, and increased and chronic adversity will relate to lower overall functioning. Further, following adverse experiences, functioning will decrease across domains before returning to baseline.
Specific Aim Two will assess the direct and indirect relationships between risk and adversity on academic achievement. We hypothesize the relationship between both risk and adversity and academic achievement will be at least partially mediated by social functioning, behavioral and emotional regulation, and executive function. To accomplish our aims, using a community-based sample, we will recruit 150 children ages 8 to 13 years referred for services by their primary teacher due to academic difficulties, along with a parent or caregiver, and their mental health clinician. Participants will be assessed at three time points over the course of one year, including a review of their academic records. Using path analysis, we will test the aims and hypotheses by simultaneously fitting multiple regression models while controlling for the correlations between outcome variables. By obtaining a greater understanding of the processes involved in the context of specific models of resilience in this high-risk population, this project promises to aid in the development of intervention programs and prevention efforts to close widening achievement gaps, mitigate the long-term effects of risk and adversity, and improve the lives of our most vulnerable youth. This R15 application also offers excellent research training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and will make significant contributions to the enhancement of Pacific University's research infrastructure.
Given widening achievement gaps between youth living under and above the poverty line, research is needed to understand the effect of risk and adversity on childhood development and ways to promote resilience and positive adaptation. The proposed cross-sectional, longitudinal project will measure the differential effects of acute and chronic adversity across domains of development in high-risk youth. This study has the potential to identify key target areas for intervention to improve the lives of vulnerable youth.