Abstract: Staff Support and Adolescent Adjustment Difficulties: The Moderating Role of Length of Stay in the Residential Care Setting (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Staff Support and Adolescent Adjustment Difficulties: The Moderating Role of Length of Stay in the Residential Care Setting

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Adena Hoffnung Assouline, Phd, Lecturer, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel
Shalhevet Attar-Schwartz, PhD, Full Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Background and Purpose: Residential child care workers, acting in loco parentis, are in continuous, daily contact with the children in their care, and as such they are one of the key support providers in their lives. However, there is limited research on the extent of staff support and contribution they make to the children’s well-being.

This study examines the link between perceived staff support and emotional and behavioral adjustment difficulties of adolescents in residential care settings designed for youth from underprivileged backgrounds in Israel. It also examines the moderating role of adolescents’ length of stay in the residential care setting in the link between staff support and adolescent adjustment.

Methods: The study was based on a cluster random sample of 1,409 youth, aged 13 to 20, in Israeli educational residential care settings for youth from underprivileged backgrounds, who completed a structured questionnaire in their settings, using an adaptation of the Social Support Network Questionnaire (SSNQ; Gee & Rhodes, 2007), designed to measure the delivery of various basic types staff support, including emotional support, tangible assistance, cognitive guidance, and social participation.

Multivariate regression models, using PROCESS analysis via SPSS, were used to test the moderating effect of adolescent length of stay in the current residential care setting on the association between staff support and adolescent adjustment difficulties. Adolescent’s age, gender, birth country, parents’ marital status, and father and mother support were held as covariates

Results: The adolescents reported an average of medium to high level of staff support. Being female, Israeli-born, and perceiving greater parental support were found to be positively correlated with perceived staff support. Staff support was associated negatively with adolescent adjustment difficulties, above and beyond the contribution of parents’ support. A significant interaction was found between length of stay and staff support in predicting adjustment difficulties. Specifically, among adolescents residing for longer periods in the residential care setting, there was a stronger link between staff support and fewer adjustment difficulties.

Conclusions and implications:

The current study has potentially important implications for child welfare professionals and policymakers. Overall, the study demonstrates that residential child care staff are highly involved in the lives of adolescents in residential care, and are important to their adjustment. The child care policy agenda should give further attention to the role of residential care settings staff. Recruiting and maintaining a high-quality staff and providing training, consultation, and ongoing clinical supervision are essential to supporting staff in their important role.

The positive links between perceived support from parents and perceived support from staff emphasize the need to develop therapeutic and policy models that aim to support healthy parent-child contact.

The significant interaction found between length of stay and staff support in predicting fewer adjustment difficulties highlights the importance of identifying groups of children who might benefit from longer placements in residential care settings, as part of the decision-making process for children in out of home placements.