Academic journal article School Psychology Review

An Intervention to Promote Social Emotional School Readiness in Foster Children: Preliminary Outcomes from a Pilot Study

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

An Intervention to Promote Social Emotional School Readiness in Foster Children: Preliminary Outcomes from a Pilot Study

Article excerpt

Abstract. Foster children are at great risk for poor school outcomes. Given that school readiness is a powerful predictor of later school success, the promotion of school readiness skills in foster children is an opportunity for preventive intervention. Results are presented from a preliminary evaluation of a program designed to improve school readiness in foster children. Twenty-four foster children were randomly assigned to the intervention or comparison conditions. The intervention consisted of therapeutic playgroups (twice weekly for 7 weeks during the summer) focusing on social competence and self-regulation skills. Attendance rates for the playgroups are reported. In addition, group differences on data collected before and after the intervention are reported. Intervention group children exhibited increased social competence and self-regulation. Comparison group children exhibited poorer performance in these domains over time. Results are discussed in terms of how the study has informed a current randomized efficacy trial of a school-readiness intervention.


Children who lack the social and academic skills to succeed in the early elementary grades are at risk for trajectories of increasing academic failure and behavior problems across their school years (Entwisle & Alexander, 1999). Foster children often fare poorly in school, showing higher rates of placement in special education, school dropout, and discipline problems, as well as exhibiting poorer academic skills than their non-foster care peers (Zetlin & Weinberg, 2004). This study describes the process by which a small-scale pilot evaluation of an intervention designed to improve school outcomes in foster children was used to examine preliminary outcomes and to inform further development for a large-scale efficacy trial.

Researchers and policy makers often stress the necessity of social emotional competence (including self-regulation and social competence skills) for success in the transition to school and in the early school years because deficits in these processes are linked to poorer school performance (Raver, 2002). Foster children who have been maltreated show deficits in neurobiological self-regulatory systems (Fisher, Gunnar, Dozier, Bruce, & Pears, 2006; Lewis, Dozier, Ackerman, & Sepulveda, in press). Further, they show poorer social competence than their peers who have not been maltreated (Rogosch, Cicchetti, & Aber, 1995), perhaps in part because of connections observed in the general population between poor self-regulation and tendencies to react more negatively toward peers (Gunnar, Tout, de Haan, Pierce, & Stansbury, 1997). Deficits in self-regulation and social competence might put foster children at particular risk when entering kindergarten for several reasons. First, they are likely to have difficulty inhibiting impulses that are disruptive to classroom functioning, such as moving from their seats or talking out of turn. Second, deficits in self-regulation and social skills are likely to lead to rejection by peers. Finally, difficulty in regulating behavior might impede abilities to concentrate and learn new academic skills.

Given that foster children show particular vulnerabilities in social skills and self-regulation, intervention strategies designed to enhance functioning in these areas might help these children to succeed in the early school years and might deflect them from trajectories toward school failure, dropout, and related psychosocial problems. A number of empirically validated programs to enhance children's social skills exist. However, these programs are generally targeted at children who are in first grade and above, tend not to include a specific focus on self-regulatory skills (Webster-Stratton & Taylor, 2001), and have not been empirically validated with foster care populations (Pears, Fisher, Heywood, & Bronz, 2007).

The intervention in the current study was specifically developed to increase foster children's self-regulation and social competence in school by teaching regulatory and social skills in a classroom-based format in which the children were given multiple explicit opportunities to practice skills with a group of unfamiliar peers. …

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