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Fostering Protective Factors in At-Risk Youth Using Individual and Group Counseling Interventions Open Access

Fostering Protective Factors in At-Risk Youth Using Individual and Group Counseling InterventionsAdolescence is a time when individuals are forced to deal with the stress of moving from being a teenager to an adult (Spear, 2000). As a result, this difficult developmental period is often characterized by adolescents engaging in risky behavior and potentially dangerous experimentation (Golden & Turner, 2005). The importance of understanding how adolescents successfully negotiate and respond favorably to these stressful situations has been the focus of many researchers over the last forty years (Ahern, Ark, & Byers, 2008; Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005) and is especially useful for school personnel interested in improving the overall social and emotional competence of students. The relationships among protective factors, school-based mental health interventions, academic outcomes and behavioral adjustment among at-risk high school students were investigated in the current study. Additionally, the potential moderating role of gender and Special Education designation on these relationships was examined. A sample of 97 ninth through twelfth grade students completed the Individual Protective Factors Index (IPFI), a 71-item self-report instrument that measures the level of protective factors three major domains: Social Bonding, Personal Competence, and Social Competence (Springer & Phillips, 1997). The students also participated in weekly group counseling sessions (using evidenced-based curricula) and individual counseling sessions with a masters-level mental health clinician (social worker or counselor). Contrary to predictions, there were no significant positive relationships between protective factors and extensiveness of counseling or academic outcomes. However, there was partial support for the hypothesized relations as a significant negative relationship was found between the Social Bonding variable and the Behavioral Adjustment Index, which indicated higher Social Bonding was associated with more positive behavioral outcomes. In terms of the proposed moderator variables, Special Education designation did not moderate relationships between protective factors and extensiveness of counseling interventions, academic outcomes or behavioral adjustment. Gender, however, did moderate the relationship between Personal Competence and the extensiveness of counseling interventions. While there was partial support for this hypothesis, the nature of the moderation effect was not consistent with the predicted relationship. The findings of the current study offer little support for the proposed association among school-based mental health counseling services, academic outcomes, and behavioral adjustment. Additional research is needed in this area particularly because efforts to improve the social and emotional skills of adolescents, best prepare them to negotiate stressful situations and life's challenges.

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