Reference: McDoniel, M. E., & Bierman, K. L. (2023). Exploring pathways linking early childhood adverse experiences to reduced preadolescent school engagement. Child Abuse & Neglect, 142, 105572.

Summarized by Saniya Soni

About the Study

Over the past two decades, schools have increasingly recognized the importance of social, emotional, and behavioral functioning in promoting adaptive school engagement. Efforts have been made to integrate trauma-informed practices into professional development programs and support services for students, driven by research on the negative impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on school functioning. Children exposed to multiple ACEs in early childhood are at high risk for adjustment difficulties and diminishing school engagement over time. This study aimed to understand the developmental processes linking early ACEs with later maladjustment by following a sample of low-income children from kindergarten to preadolescence. It examined student-teacher relationship quality and behavior problems as potential mediators of the impact of early ACEs on preadolescent school engagement.

Main Findings:

  • ACEs negatively impacted student-teacher relationship quality at school entry, which in turn increased the likelihood of elevated internalizing problems by third grade.
  • The effects of ACEs on early markers of school adjustment, such as student-teacher relationship quality and internalizing problems, subsequently influenced children’s attitudes toward school in fifth grade, including feelings of school involvement, bonding, and affiliation with teachers.
  • ACEs also predicted elevated externalizing problems that persist across the studied time periods, but student-teacher relationships do not mediate the impact of ACEs on externalizing problems.
  • Externalizing problems, in turn, did not mediate the relationship between ACEs and school disengagement.
Implications for Mentoring

Understanding these developmental pathways can inform the design of preventive interventions aimed at improving school adjustment for at-risk children exposed to early ACEs. This research provides valuable insights into the factors influencing school disengagement among children with a history of ACEs and highlights the need for targeted interventions to support their academic success. Targeted mentoring and supportive accountability may be able to help address this need. 

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