Study explores hope, school belonging, and academic support for at-risk youth

Sulimani-Aidan, Y., & Melkman, E. (2022). School belonging and hope among at-risk youth: The contribution of academic support provided by youths’ social support networks. Child & Family Social Work.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Although hopefulness can alleviate stress, uncertainty, & hardships, evidence indicates that at-risk youth have lower levels of hope compared to their peers.
  • This study assesses how academic support from school staff, mentors, & families (in addition to family-staff contact) contributes to at-risk youths’ hopefulness in Israel.
    • More specifically, it examines how school belonging can function as a moderator.
  • Both staff and mentor support are significantly associated with hope.
  • Mentor support is not only correlated with emotional/behavioral changes and concrete outcomes mentioned above but also correlates with how youth cognitively perceive themselves as adults (both in the near and distant future).
  • School support can help foster student resilience through their demonstration of hopefulness.
  • Interestingly, when a model integrated all forms of social support, staff-family contact and family support didn’t contribute to youths’ hopefulness or sense of belonging in school.
  • Supportive student-staff relationships can boost youths’ sense of connectedness. This feeling of connectedness can, in turn, encourage youth to think about and plan for their futures.
  • School staff has an influential role in youths’ academic future and their perceived futures and motivations in achieving their goals.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Based on resilience and hope theories (Snyder, 2000; Ungar & Theron, 2020), in the present study, we explored the contribution of academic support provided by family, school staff, and mentors, as well as the contribution of family-staff contact, to the hopefulness of 175 at-risk youth (M = 17.67; SD = 0.63), who had indicated having a mentor, and how school belonging mediated these relations. Structural equation modelling revealed that academic support provided by mentors and school staff contributed to youths’ hopeful thinking. Whereas the support provided by mentors had a direct effect on hope, staff support contributed indirectly via school belonging. The discussion highlights the importance of academic support provided via youths’ social networks and sheds light on the role of school belonging in increasing youths’ hopefulness. Implications for practice highlight the importance of strengthening youths’ aspirations, motivation, and knowledge regarding their future goals in school settings.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

This study extends the literature on the factors and mechanisms that contribute to the development of hope among at-risk youth and provides evidence for the role of academic support in enhancing youths’ perceptions regarding their futures. Overall, the study’s findings add to the vast literature on the importance of social support in promoting youths’ resilience and positive outcomes (Blakeslee, 2015; Hiles et al., 2013). In addition, they correspond with earlier studies that linked hope with social support (e.g. Barnum et al., 1998).

In this study, mentor and staff support were both found to be significantly and positively related to hope, as shown in the SEM analysis. These findings join findings from earlier studies in the area of mentoring that highlight the contribution of mentors to positive outcomes among at-risk youth (Ahrens et al., 2016; DuBois et al., 2002; Sulimani-Aidan et al., 2019). These findings also indicate that support from the mentor is associated not only with the abovementioned concrete outcomes or emotional and behavioural changes but also with cognitive aspects concerning the adolescents’ perceptions of themselves as adults in both the near and distant future. Accordingly, the results strengthen mentoring theories that posit that mentoring relationships operate through improving youths’ social, emotional and cognitive development and by enhancing positive identity development (Ahrens et al., 2016; Rhodes, 2005). Indeed, these aspects are very important during the transitional period from high school to emerging adulthood and could be related to youths’ hopeful thinking and future achievements. It is also worth noting that mentor support was only directly associated with hope and that our hypothesis regarding mediating effects via school belonging was not supported by the data. One could argue that such mediated effects might not be expected unless mentors were in the school context, though more research is needed to explore these issues.

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