The unique and combined impact of health and caretaking risk factors on the school adjustment of urban first-grade students

Andrea Marie DelGaudio Weiss, University of Pennsylvania


Although aspects of child health and the caretaking environment are important for early development, little is known about how these factors relate to school adjustment. The empirical research literature has identified seven health and caretaking environment risk factors that threaten children's adjustment to school. Health risk factors examined were low birth weight, low Apgar score, and lead poisoning while caretaking risk factors included birth to a single mother, birth to a teenage mother, child maltreatment, and placement in out-of-home care. Important indicators of school adjustment were also identified, namely report card marks, grade retention, receipt of special education services, and school attendance. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationships among risk factors and indicators of school adjustment for a population of first grade children. Participants were 9,088 students drawn from the population of 15,294 first graders in a large urban public school district. Information on risk factors and school adjustment indicators was obtained from computerized records of three city agencies as part of a larger collaborative study: public health, child protective services, and the school district. Individual records were combined across agencies using record linkage procedures. The independent and interactive effects of risk factors on school adjustment were assessed using logistic regression. Results showed that six of the seven risk factors significantly increased risk for poor school adjustment, in order of decreasing relative strength: birth to a single mother, child maltreatment, out-of-home care, low birth weight, lead poisoning, and birth to a teen mother. Independent effects were found for academic, behavior, grade retention, and school attendance outcomes. Effects remained stable for two random subsamples, males, females, and minorities but less so for Whites. No significant interactive effects were found among the risk factors. The cumulative effects of multiple risk factors were examined using correlation analysis, however, little support was found. Implications of the findings for research, policy, and practice were discussed.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

DelGaudio Weiss, Andrea Marie, "The unique and combined impact of health and caretaking risk factors on the school adjustment of urban first-grade students" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9829884.