Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Christopher J. Trentacosta

Second Advisor

Joanne Smith-Darden


Research has found that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, absent parent, and parental drug use are linked to a number of negative outcomes, including a sense of hopelessness (Flouri & Panourgia, 2012). However, not every child or adolescent exposed to ACEs will experience negative outcomes or develop a sense of hopelessness, due to potential protective factors which may act as buffers to exposure to trauma. The current study investigated the relationship between ACEs reported by adolescents and self-reported feelings of hopelessness, and examined the potential modifiable external protective factors of school connectedness, community involvement, and parental supervision, which may mitigate the relationship between ACEs and the development of hopelessness. It also uniquely investigated concentrated disadvantage as a novel way to study the effect neighborhood level traits have on the development of hopelessness after experiencing ACEs. It was expected that higher levels of ACEs would predict greater levels of hopelessness, and that the factors of school connectedness, community involvement, and parental supervision would attenuate the link between ACEs and hopelessness. Furthermore, it was expected that those from higher levels of concentrated disadvantage would experience more ACEs and greater levels of hopelessness than those at lower levels, and that the factors of school connectedness, community involvement, and parental supervision would operate differently across different levels of disadvantage. Finally, exploratory analyses were conducted to determine if cohort (middle vs. high school) or sex (male vs. female) impacted the way in which the factors operated across the sample.

Participants (N = 1238) completed a survey addressing demographics and multiple domains of functioning. Exposure to trauma was measured using the ACE scale (Felitti et al., 1998), while hopelessness was measured using Kazdin’s Hopelessness Scale (1983). School connectedness was measured using the Sense of School Membership Scale (Goodenow, 1993), community involvement was measured using the Community Involvement Scale (Tolan, Gorman-Smith, & Henry, 2001), and parental supervision was measured using the Parental Supervision scale from the Seattle Social Development Project (Arthur et al., 2002). Multiple regressions, ANCOVAs, and hierarchical linear regressions were used to conduct analyses. ACEs significantly predicted hopelessness, as did the factors of school connectedness, community involvement, and parental supervision. However, these three factors did not moderate the relationship between ACEs and hopelessness in the overall sample. Those from high concentrated disadvantage experienced significantly more ACEs than those from low concentrated disadvantage; no significant differences in hopelessness between groups were observed. ACEs predicted hopelessness at the concentrated disadvantage level, as well as in analyses of the separate cohorts and sexes, as did the three factors (exception: community involvement failed to predict hopelessness for the medium concentrated disadvantage group). Group level moderation analyses revealed that school connectedness attenuated the relationship between ACEs and hopelessness in medium concentrated disadvantage, middle school females. The current study contributed to the literature, demonstrating the link between ACEs and hopelessness, as well as showing which protective factors are most important for mitigating this link. Findings demonstrate that for youth to have positive outcomes, they need engagement in prosocial behaviors in the community and school, as well as adult or parental supervision. Furthermore, these findings speak to the importance of promoting a connection to the school, especially in the case of highly trauma exposed female, middle-school adolescents from medium concentrated disadvantage, and have implications for educators, clinicians, parents, and policy-makers.

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