Abstract: The Association of Veteran Family Membership and School Climate with Adverse Outcomes Among Children in Schools (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

451P The Association of Veteran Family Membership and School Climate with Adverse Outcomes Among Children in Schools

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kate Sullivan, PhD, Assistant Professor, New York University, NY
Victoria Williamson, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Associate, King's College London
Jessica Dodge, MPH, PhD & MSW Student, University of Southern California
Filipa Alves Costa, PhD, Research Assistant, King's College London
Nicholas Barr, PhD, PhD Candidate, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Sara Kintzle, PhD, Research Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Nicola Fear, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology, King's College London, King's Centre for Military Health Research
Carl Castro, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: When parents transition from the Armed Forces to civilian life, young people may experience significant challenges associated with this change, including parental unemployment and exposure to parent’s physical or psychological injuries. Despite these stressors, little is known about the functioning of children in veteran-connected families. Further, empirical research has not considered the role of safe and supportive schools in counteracting these stressors for veteran-connected students. This study examines the association of veteran parent’s mental health and unemployment with adverse functioning of their school age children, as well as the potential moderating effect of school safety, a critical element of school climate.

Methods: Participants were 218 veteran parents of a child attending K-12 school, who completed the Chicago Veterans Survey, including measures of PTSD (PCL-5) and depression (PHQ-9) symptomatology, unemployment (yes/no), a school safety scale drawn from the California School Parent Survey (a companion to the California Healthy Kids Survey), and an adverse child functioning screening tool.  Hierarchical linear regression was employed to fit 3 models, with demographic control variables in model 1, main effects of parent mental health, unemployment, and school safety added in model 2, and interaction terms to examine the moderating effects of school safety added in model 3.  Because of concerns regarding multicollinearity between PTSD and depression symptomatology, only depression was included in final models.     

Results: Model 3, including demographics, main effects and interaction terms, had the best fit (ΔF=4.339, p<.05) and explained nearly a quarter of the variance in our outcome variable (R2=0.220). Depression symptomatology (β=.178, p=.037) and perceptions of school safety (β=-.259, p=.002) were significantly associated with perceptions of adverse functioning among veteran-connected youth in Model 2, which included only main effects. In model 3, the main effect of perceived school safety remained a significant predictor (β = -.663, p < .01), and the term representing the interaction between depression symptomatology and perceived school safety was also significantly related to our outcome (β = .248, p < .01). Further examination of this interaction suggests at lower levels of veteran depression, perceived child functioning is substantially impacted by perceived school climate, with safer schools appearing to exert a protective effect on child functioning and unsafe schools predicting poor child functioning. However, as parental depression increases to high levels (above 1.5 SD above the mean), the differences in marginal effects for school climate converge and are no longer meaningful.   

Conclusions and Implications: Findings demonstrate that common stressors experienced by veterans (e.g., poor mental health, unemployment) can impact perceptions of their child’s functioning and suggest that school climate can have a protective effect. At less severe levels of parental mental health symptomatology, a safe school climate may attenuate the association between stressors at home and poor functioning for veteran-connected youth. At more severe levels of depression symptomatology, this buffering effect disappears, suggesting this group may require more specialized intervention. Findings suggest a potentially crucial role for schools, including teachers, staff and administrators, in supporting the healthy functioning of veteran-connected students and their families.