School readiness of maltreated preschoolers and later school achievement: The role of emotion regulation, language, and context

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Academic achievement is an important indicator for the well-being of children with a history of maltreatment. Unfortunately, many of these children fall behind their non-maltreated peers in measures of academic performance, and the achievement gap between these groups is increasing. Attempts to close this gap at later ages can prove to be challenging. The focus on early childhood as a developmental period to direct research and intervention efforts holds promise. Early childhood is a critical time for the ongoing development of emotion regulation, which is an important domain of school readiness. For young maltreated children, however, specific individual-level and context-level factors need to be considered in understanding how emotion regulation development proceeds. That is, the placement experiences for these young children vary greatly in the cognitive stimulation, emotional support, and stability they provide. Qualitative differences in these context-level factors can place children in different trajectories of development. These varying trajectories, in turn, may place young maltreated children in different pathways that lead to different academic outcomes in later grades.

The goals of this study then were to: 1) examine the growth curves and determine the functional form of emotion regulation across time, beginning with early childhood when first contact with Child Protective Services (CPS) occurred; 2) identify latent classes based on developmental patterns of emotion regulation for maltreated preschool-aged children; 3) examine developmental differences based on individual-level and context-level factors specific to the experiences of young maltreated children; and 4) elucidate the different pathways to later academic achievement. This study utilized data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW I) study, which was a nationally-representative study that employed a complex probability sampling framework that provided estimation of national-level parameters. Data analyses used latent growth curve models, latent class analyses, and latent transition analyses to answer the goals stated above. Results indicated stability and change in emotionally regulated vs. emotionally dysregulated latent classes across 4, 5, and 6 ½ years of age. Moreover, children classified as emotionally dysregulated at age 6 ½ scored significantly lower than children who were classified as emotionally regulated on measures of reading and math achievement by age 10. Policy implications for child welfare and early childhood education are presented.