Children and adults who have experienced family and neighborhood violence are at elevated risk for poor mental and physical health, but such outcomes are not inevitable. Sara Jaffee will describe three studies that explore the role of socially supportive relationships in buffering children and adults from risk associated with exposure to family and neighborhood violence in childhood. Study 1 describes the importance of safe, supportive, and nurturing relationships for breaking the cycle of maltreatment within families and for promoting positive mental health outcomes in women with childhood histories of abuse and neglect. Study 2 identifies specific dimensions of socially supportive relationships that buffer children in a UK sample from the risk for problem behaviors associated with exposure to traumatic events in the family and community. Study 3 replicates the findings from Study 2 in a sample of adolescents from Philadelphia and explores the extent to which socially supportive relationships change over time among youth with low versus high levels of exposure to childhood adversity. Jaffee will discuss the challenges of accounting for selection effects in studies of social support and the implications for natural and formal mentoring interventions with high-risk youth.
Sara Jaffee is professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, conducting research on at-risk families and children. She is interested in how stressful environments exacerbate underlying genetic vulnerabilities to affect children’s development, with a special interest in children’s antisocial behavior. Her work combines longitudinal, epidemiological methods with genetically-informative research designs to better understand how risk and protective factors operate in children’s development.