Adverse Family Experiences, Child Mental Health, and Educational Outcomes for a National Sample of Students
Exposure to adversity in childhood, including domestic violence, parental mental illness, loss, and poverty, is a known risk factor for long-term physical and mental health problems. This secondary data analysis uses the National Survey of Children’s Health 2011/12 to examine the association between exposure to family adversity and academic outcomes, as mediated by child mental health. The analytic sample included 65,680 children between the ages of six and 17, representative of the US child population. Family adversity, as mediated by child mental health status, was negatively associated with school engagement and positively associated with being retained in grade and being on an Individualized Education Program. Male gender, family economic hardship, living in an unsafe neighborhood, and poor caregiver mental health were additional risk factors. Results suggest the need for improved mental health screening for students who exhibit internalizing and externalizing symptoms.