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Risk and protective factors in middle childhood


Children in risk of psychosocial disorders represent a high proportion of contemporary young population. According to the developmental perspective for the occurrence of disorders, the results of exposure to risk translate into a set of possibilities of development and not as the expression of isolated illnesses or disorders based on specific causal factors. As a precursor to adolescence, where vulnerable individuals are involved increasingly earlier in risk behavior, it is important to focus on the school stage with a concern to determine risk factors that may be modified, as well as resources and protection factors that may be strengthened, within a preventive approach. Underpinned on the theoretical-methodological model of the developmental approach, this project aims at examining the interactions between risk factors and protection factors in the development of school-aged children, using adaptive milestones and developmental tasks at this stage of human development. The project comprises 13 modules, grouped into four sets of investigations herein called subprojects. In Subproject 1, we investigate the protection effects of interpersonal problem-solving skills in vulnerable children showing behavioral problems associated with school difficulties. By means of a group-comparison design and a pre/post-intervention assessment, we aim to ascertain the protection effect of a program earmarked for mitigating behavioral problems by means of strengthening interpersonal problem-solving skills. The issue of Subproject 2 is resiliency in children with school learning difficulties. Two comparison group designs will be conducted, as well as a longitudinal study and a pre/post intervention design. These studies will focus on interactions between family risk or protection factors and personal indicators of resiliency (positive social orientation, interpersonal problem-solving skills) and vulnerability (difficulties in interpersonal relations, behavioral emotional difficulties). The objective is to try to understand the mechanisms through which such variables alter the effects of preventive interventions and affect the developmental path of children towards adolescence. In Subproject 3, the objective is to assess children's self-concept and self-efficacy in elementary school-aged children, aiming to understand the vulnerability meaning associated to the problems. Four studies will be carried out to delimit the impact of satisfactory/unsatisfactory school achievement and psychopedagogical help in the areas of health and school, as sources of vulnerability or protection, taking children's perceptions regarding their self-concept and self-efficacy as a reference. Our objective is to relate data concerning self-concept and self-efficacy to behavioral manifestations, in terms of maturity and school achievement, under different conditions, focusing on vulnerability and the protection factors which take place during the elementary school period. In Subproject 4, oriented towards investigating prematurity and low birth weight as a risk factor for development and learning, the objective is to answer questions concerning the development of children biologically vulnerable due to the high neonatal risk, and thus prone to presenting development and learning problems. Three studies will be carried out, the first one with longitudinal design and the other two with cross-sectional design and comparison with control groups. The studies will focus on some of the big milestones of children psychological development. By assessing aspects of the development of children exposed to risk factors, problems may be detected, as well as protection factors in their history which may have favored their success in development in spite of the hardships. With the set of results, our goal is to consolidate a research line designed to investigate the interactions between risk factors and protection factors in the development of school-aged children, as well as to formulate preventive intervention programs which may foster these children's full development. (AU)

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