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An increasing number of researchers and policymakers have been moved to study and intervene in the lives of children affected by violent conflicts (Masten, 2014). According to a United Nations Children's Fund (2009) report, over 1 billion children under the age of 18 are growing up in regions where acts of political violence and armed conflict are, as Ladds and Cairns (1996, p. 15) put it, “a common occurrence—a fact of life.” In recent years, the United Nations Children's Fund, advocacy and human rights groups, journalists, and researchers have drawn public attention to the high rates of child casualties in these regions, and to the plights of those children still caught in the crossfire. It has thus become clear that both the challenges and the stakes are higher than ever to promote the safety and well-being of affected children around the world (Masten & Narayan, 2012; Tol, Jordans, Kohrt, Betancourt, & Komproe, 2012).
Over 1 billion children worldwide are exposed to political violence and armed conflict. The current conclusions are qualified by limited longitudinal research testing sophisticated process-oriented explanatory models for child adjustment outcomes. In this study, consistent with a developmental psychopathology perspective emphasizing the value of process-oriented longitudinal study of child adjustment in developmental and social–ecological contexts, we tested emotional insecurity about the community as a dynamic, within-person mediating process for relations between sectarian community violence and child adjustment. Specifically, this study explored children's emotional insecurity at a person-oriented level of analysis assessed over 5 consecutive years, with child gender examined as a moderator of indirect effects between sectarian community violence and child adjustment. In the context of a five-wave longitudinal research design, participants included 928 mother–child dyads in Belfast (453 boys, 475 girls) drawn from socially deprived, ethnically homogenous areas that had experienced political violence. Youth ranged in age from 10 to 20 years and were 13.24 (SD = 1.83) years old on average at the initial time point. Greater insecurity about the community measured over multiple time points mediated relations between sectarian community violence and youth's total adjustment problems. The pathway from sectarian community violence to emotional insecurity about the community was moderated by child gender, with relations to emotional insecurity about the community stronger for girls than for boys. The results suggest that ameliorating children's insecurity about community in contexts of political violence is an important goal toward improving adolescents' well-being and adjustment. These results are discussed in terms of their translational research implications, consistent with a developmental psychopathology model for the interface between basic and intervention research.
Although relations between political violence and child adjustment are well documented, longitudinal research is needed to adequately address the many questions remaining about the contexts and developmental trajectories underlying the effects on children in areas of political violence. The study examined the relations between sectarian and nonsectarian community violence and adolescent adjustment problems over 4 consecutive years. Participants included 999 mother–child dyads (482 boys, 517 girls), M ages = 12.18 (SD = 1.82), 13.24 (SD = 1.83), 13.61 (SD = 1.99), and 14.66 (SD = 1.96) years, respectively, living in socially deprived neighborhoods in Belfast, Northern Ireland, a context of historical and ongoing political violence. In examining trajectories of adjustment problems, including youth experience with both sectarian and nonsectarian antisocial behaviors, sectarian antisocial behavior significantly predicted more adjustment problems across the 4 years of the study. Experiencing sectarian antisocial behavior was related to increased adolescent adjustment problems, and this relationship was accentuated in neighborhoods characterized by higher crime rates. The discussion considers the implications for further validating the distinction between sectarian and nonsectarian violence, including consideration of neighborhood crime levels, from the child's perspective in a setting of political violence.
Relations between political violence and child adjustment are matters of international concern. Past research demonstrates the significance of community, family, and child psychological processes in child adjustment, supporting study of interrelations between multiple social ecological factors and child adjustment in contexts of political violence. Testing a social ecological model, 300 mothers and their children (M = 12.28 years, SD = 1.77) from Catholic and Protestant working class neighborhoods in Belfast, Northern Ireland, completed measures of community discord, family relations, and children's regulatory processes (i.e., emotional security) and outcomes. Historical political violence in neighborhoods based on objective records (i.e., politically motivated deaths) were related to family members' reports of current sectarian antisocial behavior and nonsectarian antisocial behavior. Interparental conflict and parental monitoring and children's emotional security about both the community and family contributed to explanatory pathways for relations between sectarian antisocial behavior in communities and children's adjustment problems. The discussion evaluates support for social ecological models for relations between political violence and child adjustment and its implications for understanding relations in other parts of the world.
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