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Maltreated Youth Suffer Educationally

Adolescence often involves isolation and stress as young people transition through what can be a difficult period of development and identity formation. In the United States in 2015, Child Protective Services (CPS) received approximately 4.0 million reports of child abuse and neglect, involving 7.2 million children (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, & Children’s Bureau, 2017). Experiencing maltreatment, including abuse or neglect, can change children’s brain development and physiology, impact learning and behavior, and increase their risk for poor physical and mental health (Shonkoff et al., 2012).

The impact of maltreatment on a child’s development and behavior may contribute to their poor academic outcomes. For example, compared to their peers, maltreated children have worse reading (Perez & Widom, 1994) and language skills (Noll et al., 2010; Viezel, Freer, Lowell, & Castillo, 2015), lower grades (Eckenrode, Rowe, Laird, & Brathwaite, 1995; Smith, Park, Ireland, Elwyn, & Thornberry, 2013), and lower standardized test scores (Eckenrode et al., 1995; Kurtz, Gaudin, Wodarski, & Howing, 1993), and are at increased risk for grade retention (Eckenrode et al., 1995; Perez & Widom, 1994; Shonk & Cicchetti, 2001), special education placement (Jonson-Reid, Drake, Kim, Porterfield, & Han, 2004; Shonk & Cicchetti, 2001), suspension/expulsion (Perez & Widom, 1994), and high school dropout (Noll et al., 2010; Perez & Widom, 1994; Smith et al., 2013; Tanaka, Georgiades, Boyle, & MacMillan, 2015).

Supporting educational success represents an important opportunity to promote a positive trajectory for maltreated youth, since educational achievement and health are positively correlated. The American Academy of Pediatrics identifies educational achievement as an outcome representing lifelong well-being (Shonkoff et al., 2012), and high school graduation has been identified as an important and well-studied marker of educational attainment and future health for children in general (Freudenberg & Ruglis, 2007). To date, studies have explored factors associated with maltreated youths’ educational outcomes, such as type (Coohey, Renner, Hua, Zhang, & Whitney, 2011; Jonson-Reid et al., 2004; O’Hara et al., 2015; Perez & Widom, 1994; Tanaka et al., 2015) and chronicity (Coohey et al., 2011; Herrenkohl, Herrenkohl, & Egolf, 1994) of maltreatment; caregiver (Herrenkohl et al., 1994), home, and school instability (Eckenrode et al., 1995); and child intelligence (Coohey et al., 2011; Herrenkohl et al., 1994). However, many of these factors may not be amenable to intervention; as such, a greater understanding of potentially modifiable ways to promote youths’ educational success is needed.

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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