The Impact of Maltreatment on Internalizing Symptoms for Foster Youth: an Examination of Spirituality and Appraisals as Moderators

  • Stephanie K. GuslerEmail author
  • Yo Jackson
  • Shaquanna Brown
Original Article


Research shows that exposure to child maltreatment increases the risk of internalizing symptoms for youth, and that youth in foster care are at a particularly high risk of symptoms. However, not all youth who experience maltreatment evidence maladjustment, making the link between exposure and mental health outcomes unclear and creating a need to examine what factors buffer against symptomatology. A sample of youth in foster care was used to provide a new examination of the relation between child maltreatment exposure and internalizing symptoms, to test the possible moderating effects of both appraisals and spirituality, and examine differences between children and adolescents. Participants were 486 youth in foster care (M age = 13; 204 children; 282 adolescents). Youth completed self-report measures through the SPARK project (Studying Pathways to Adjustment and Resilience in Kids). Although appraisals and spirituality were not significant moderators, significant main effects emerged. For children, regression analyses showed that maltreatment exposure and lower scores on spiritual prosocial attitudes accounted for the majority of the 21% of the variance in internalizing symptoms. For adolescents 28% of the variance in internalizing symptoms was accounted for by greater maltreatment exposure, lower scores on spiritual prosocial attitudes, higher scores on relationship with a God/Higher Power, and more negative appraisals of stressful life events. The current study provides support for cognitive-based interventions for adolescents aimed at increasing appraisal flexibility and suggests that both children and adolescents could benefit from the development of prosocial attitudes often tied to spirituality but could be reinforced in additional settings.


Children Adolescent Maltreatment Mental health Foster youth Spirituality 



The current project was made possible by funding from the National Institutes of Mental Health, RO1 grant MH079252-03.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clinical Child Psychology, Human Development CenterUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology, Child Maltreatment Solutions NetworkThe Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Physical Medicine and RehabilitationUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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