How mentors can help maltreated children with coping strategies

Chesmore, A. A., Weiler, L. M., & Taussig, H. N. (2017). Mentoring relationship quality and maltreated children’s coping. American journal of community psychology60(1-2), 229-241.

Summarized by Karina DeAndrade

Notes of Interest: The purpose of this study was understand if mentoring could help children who had been maltreated with their coping strategies. Specifically, 154 children who participated were evaluated. Four coping strategies were highlighted. Findings suggest that mentoring relationships helped children cope with the some of adversities they faced and that one of the four coping strategies was used more than the rest.


Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Coping strategies are believed to protect against the harmful effects of maltreatment on children’s psychosocial outcomes. Caregivers are thought to be critical in helping children develop adaptive coping strategies, yet many maltreated children have poor and/or insecure relationships with their parents. A quality relationship with a caring, non-parental adult (e.g., a mentor), however, may be one strategy to promote healthy coping among maltreated children. Children (N = 154) in this study participated in a mentoring and skill-based program for maltreated preadolescents placed in foster care. Hierarchical regression was used to assess the association between children’s reports of their relationship with their mentor at the end of the intervention and four coping strategies (i.e., Active, Support-seeking, Avoidance, and Distraction) 6 months following the intervention, while accounting for baseline coping strategies and other demographic factors. Above and beyond the covariates, better mentoring relationship quality was associated with children’s greater use of Active and Distraction coping 6- month post-intervention. Mentoring relationship quality was not significantly associated with children’s Avoidance or Support-seeking coping. The findings suggest that mentoring programs may be a fruitful approach to improving vulnerable children’s coping skills. Because children in foster care often transition in and out of schools and home environments, a quality relationship with a mentor (a consistent presence in the child’s life) may be well suited to promote healthy coping strategies.


Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The current findings suggest that quality relationships with mentors may help facilitate maltreated children’s use of coping strategies. A quality relationship with a mentor following a mentoring and skill-based intervention led to significantly higher levels of Active and Distraction coping 6 months following program completion, above and beyond a number of factors including T1 coping and skills group attendance (which included coping skills instruction). Positive mentoring relationship quality was marginally associated with higher levels of Support-seeking coping. There was no support for an association between mentoring relationship quality and children’s avoidance coping.

Contrary to our hypotheses, a quality mentoring relationship was positively associated with distraction coping (a form of disengagement coping). The literature on distraction coping is limited, because past research has typically combined distraction with avoidant strategies (Ayers et al., 1996). Distraction coping, however, may be a less negative form of disengagement coping than avoidance. In this study, for example, distraction was measured using items such as “listen to music” and “read a book or magazine,” which may be conceptualized as adaptive ways to temporarily relieve stress. There is also some recent evidence that suggests distraction coping is situation specific and may be adaptive among youth exposed to high levels of stress. In addition to maltreatment, children in this study experienced a host of stressors such as chronic living instability, school transitions, poverty, and exposure to community violence and domestic abuse (see Raviv et al., 2010 for further description). It may be that mentors encouraged children to use distraction as a way to temporarily relieve feelings of helplessness and distress due to the magnitude of uncontrollable stressors to which children were exposed.


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