Introduction: Maltreated youth experience chronic stress that can lead to significant risk for development of problem behaviors across the lifespan (Trickett et al., 2011). Multiple risk and protective factors influence this association between child maltreatment and youth adjustment. Death of a family member or close friend, known as bereavement, is a significant risk factor that can compound the effect of childhood maltreatment. According to the stress sensitization hypothesis, youth who experience early life stressors (e.g., child maltreatment) are more vulnerable to subsequent stressors (e.g., bereavement; Hammen et al., 2000). While maltreated youth who experience loss may be particularly at risk for the development of behavior problems, personal and contextual factors may help youth avoid potential psychopathology. The present study examines the effect of bereavement in maltreated youth and the role of multi-level protective factors in promoting resilience among these youths.
Methods: The sample was obtained from the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) consortium of studies (N = 1,354). A subsample of youth who were maltreated at or before the age of 12 were selected (N = 800; 52.4% female). Moderating variables were future orientation, supportive adult figures, parent-child relationship quality, parental monitoring, and neighborhood efficacy. Control variables were sex, SES risk, and ethnicity. Externalizing symptomology was measured at age 16 using the CBCL (Achenbach, 1991). To test the study hypotheses, path analysis models were run using Mplus 7.4 (Muthén & Muthén, 1998-2010). Interaction analyses were tested (bereavement * protective factor) to evaluate for statistical moderation.
Results: Path analyses revealed that bereavement significantly predicted prospective symptoms of externalizing (b = .152, SE = .049, p < .01, 95% CI [.057, .247]). Moderation analysis also showed that future orientation for family (b = -.162, SE = 2.091, p < .05, 95% CI [-.284, -.039]), parental monitoring (b = -.157, SE = 1.298, p < .001, 95% CI [-.245, -.070]), and neighborhood efficacy (b = -.136, SE = 1.560, p < .01, 95% CI [-.234, -.039]) each significantly moderated the pathway between bereavement and externalizing symptoms.
Conclusions: This study revealed that maltreated youth who experienced significant loss were at increased risk for externalizing behaviors compared to non-bereaved maltreated youth. Despite the additional risk posed by bereavement for maltreated youth, several protective factors buffered the link between bereavement and externalizing problems. Important implications for future prevention include promoting resilience among maltreated youth by developing intervention programs that target these protective factors.