Understanding the relationship between adverse childhood experiences, social-emotional learning skills, and behavioral difficulties of youth



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Dual-factor models of mental health, those that include risk of psychopathology and well-being/protective factors, provide a more comprehensive understanding of an individual’s complete mental health. Social-emotional learning (SEL) skills and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are each independently linked in the literature with predicting the likelihood of displaying internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Such behavioral concerns have implications for multiple areas of functioning across the lifespan including mental health concerns, as well as academic and vocational success. This study investigated whether a dual-factor model including youth SEL skills and youth ACEs as rated by parents might successfully differentiate children and adolescents with higher rates of internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. Results indicated that such a model did predict internalizing and externalizing behavior concerns. Moreover, analysis indicated that as SEL skills increased, there was a reduction in level of both internalizing and externalizing behavior concerns, even for those with high levels of ACEs, though the reduction was greatest for those with fewer ACEs. In addition, as parental ACES have also been found to play a role in youth internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, a second model was investigated which included parent ACEs in addition to youth SEL skills and youth ACEs. Analysis indicated that these models were successful in predicting levels of internalizing and externalizing behavior concerns. Changes in predicted variance between internalizing and externalizing behavior models were statistically significant. It is notable that when parent ACEs were added to the model, the interaction between youth SEL skills and youth ACEs was no longer significant. Implications for the importance of including consideration of both risk and protective factors in screening and other early intervention measures are considered.



ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, SEL, social emotional learning, dual factor model of mental health, behavior, internalizing behavior, externalizing behavior, parent ACEs, universal screening