Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

16209 3. Effects of the Youth Matters Program On Bullying and Peer Victimization Among Elementary and Middle School Students

Saturday, January 14, 2012: 11:00 AM
Cabin John (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Jeffrey M. Jenson, PhD, Philip D. and Eleanor G. Winn Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Daniel Brisson, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Kimberly A. Bender, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Anne Williford, Assistant Professor, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
Shandra Forrest-Bank, MSW, Research Assistant, University of Denver, Denver, CO
Purpose: Bullying and peer victimization are significant problems for young people in elementary and middle school. Estimates of bullying indicate that as many as 30% of students in grades 4 and 5 commit acts of bullying against their classmates. Reports of victimization by similar-age students are approximately two times higher than estimated rates of bullying (Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009). Youth who bully other classmates demonstrate poorer behavioral, social, psychological, and emotional functioning than other students. Victims of bullying report significantly higher levels of internalizing problems, such as anxiety and depression, and lower levels of self-esteem and social competence than other youth. We examine the experimental effects of a prevention program called Youth Matters (YM) on rates and patterns of bullying and victimization among a sample of elementary and middle school students. YM is a skills-based intervention that promotes healthy development by encouraging positive relationships between students and school adults and creating safe and healthy norms throughout the school community.

Methods: Data are from a group-randomized trial that was conducted in an urban public school system. Fourth-grade classrooms in 28 elementary schools were randomly assigned to YM or to a no-treatment control group. Intervention occurred in the 4th and 5th grades and was followed by a one-year follow-up at the end of the 6th grade (N=876; 52% female; 53% Latino/a). Measures used in the analysis include self-reports of bullying and peer victimization from the Olweus Revised Bully/Victim Questionnaire. Cross-classified linear growth models were fitted to five waves of data collected over three years to test the main effects of YM on the rate of change in bullying and victimization. Latent class analysis (LCA) was then conducted to identify types and patterns of involvement in bullying behaviors and victimization experiences from grades 4 to 6. Differences in patterns of involvement in bullying and victimization among subjects were examined by study condition.

Results: Peer victimization declined at a significantly higher rate in experimental schools relative to control schools over the course of the study. Linear growth modeling revealed a 20% decline in victimization in the YM group compared to only 6% in the control group during the first two years of intervention; participation in YM was associated with a 7% decline in victimization at one-year follow-up. LCA revealed a four-class solution, with classes categorized as bullies, victims, bully-victims, and uninvolved. Subjects in the YM group moved from membership in bully, victim, and bully-victim classes to the uninvolved class at significantly higher rates than their control counterparts.

Conclusions and Implications: Results suggests that prevention programs implemented in the latter years of elementary school may be an important strategy to preventing and reducing aggressive behavior and victimization in the developmental period of late childhood and early adolescence. The most positive impact of YM was found for students in the victim class, suggesting that school-based interventions should consider placing additional emphasis on efforts that create positive social norms about the adverse effects of bullying. Implications for prevention research are noted.

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