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Risk and Resilience: Girls' Experiences Navigating Space and Relationships in a Secure Residential Facility Open Access

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The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine how adolescent girls with diagnosed learning and emotional disabilities described themselves as they negotiated various environments and relationships within a secure residential facility. The goal was to explore how conditions and interactions in these environments promoted both risk and resiliency.Eight girls aged 13 to 18 years old were studied. Four girls were African American and four were Caucasian. Interviews were conducted utilizing a self-portrait interviewing technique (Harter & Monsour, 1992; Wright, 2004, 2006). This interviewing technique asked the girls to generate six descriptors of themselves in each of three identified microsystems (e.g., Bronfenbrenner, 1977, 1979) consisting of the classroom, the cafeteria and the residential unit. The girls ranked their descriptors as most, less, and least important and placed them on the self-portrait organizer. The portrait was used to generate conversation about the characteristics of each environment to determine what made them feel positive or negative in that setting. Additional data were collected through observations of the girls in the school and residential settings, record reviews, interviews with school staff and an examination of documented school policies. ATLAS.ti was used to manage, code and compare data.The results of the study suggested that resiliency- and risk-promoting factors were articulated as feelings of connectedness and powerlessness. Connectedness was expressed through positive self-descriptors that aligned with caring relationships with peers and staff within the facility. In contrast, powerlessness was articulated through negative self-descriptors that aligned with poor relationships. Experiences such as high-quality classroom lessons and meaningful relationships with teachers and staff fostered resiliency and provided the girls with healthy interactions. Examples of risk-promoting factors were boredom in the classroom, the restrictiveness of the setting, negative staff interactions, or witnessing fights. These experiences exacerbated their mental health challenges. The identification of resiliency-promoting factors is crucial to any reform effort within the research site and can also be used to plan programming at similar sites in other jurisdictions. Additionally, it is important to identify risk-promoting factors in order to reduce the severity of the effects and to develop interventions to eliminate them.

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