How Does Early Life Adversity Impact On Social Interaction And School Engagement In Middle Childhood In Ireland?

O'Connor, Mary F. (2018) How Does Early Life Adversity Impact On Social Interaction And School Engagement In Middle Childhood In Ireland? PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

How Does Early Life Adversity Impact On Social Interaction And School Engagement In Middle Childhood In Ireland?
Thesis Mary F.O'Connor.pdf - Whole Document

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Item Status:Live Archive


Current literature suggests that adversity in early childhood is thought to affect
some areas of later development. When examining the impacts of early childhood
deprivation, the development of intercountry adopted (ICA) children is of major
interest to researchers as their circumstances provide a good example of early
childhood adversity which ended abruptly (Rutter et al., 2001; O’Connor, 2003;
Haugaard and Hazan 2003). From about 1990 Ireland has become a receiving
country for many children adopted from overseas. However, very little research
has been carried out in Ireland on ICA children.
Many diverse areas of later development have been examined in ICA children
internationally, but there appears to be a dearth of literature exploring the social
interaction and school engagement of post-institutionalised (PI) ICA children in
middle childhood. While many studies make broad references to pre-adoption
living conditions in general, few studies appear to have any measure of individual
ICA children’s living environment when exploring their later development. For this
reason, the current study explored how early life adversity impacted on the social
interaction and school engagement of ten post-institutionalised ICA children in
middle childhood in Ireland, while also gaining some insight into the level of
adversity endured by each of them pre-adoption. Having information about
individual ICA children’s pre-adoption living environment may positively influence
support strategies utilised by teachers and other professionals working with the
A qualitative approach was used to explore the research question through the
perceptions of ten adoptive parents of PI ICA children and each of the children’s
teachers. Findings in the current study suggest that the majority of the ICA
children were exposed to pre-adoption conditions in line with level two of Gunnar’s
(2001) categories of deprivation, where children’s medical and physical needs
were met but emotional needs were neglected. Many of the children were
reported to have ongoing difficulties with language, attention and sensory
difficulties, which impacted on their social interaction and school engagement. iii
The majority of participants reported that many ICA children were observed to be
hyper-vigilant for much of their time in school. According to teachers, this state of
heightened alertness and associated stress appeared to interfere with the ICA
children’s learning. These findings are in line with the literature, suggesting that a
state of toxic stress may be associated with chronic neglect and may impact on
brain development, which is especially malleable in early childhood (The National
Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2014).
Findings demonstrated that the early neglect suffered by ICA children may not
only serve an adaptive purpose affecting children’s social interaction and school
engagement, but also implied that some teachers may not be fully tuned into ICA
children’s needs. Management strategies in the classroom varied, with better
outcomes reported by parents and teachers where there was good home–school
communication and noticeably where teachers had studied psychology as part of
their training.
Findings in this study highlight the need for detailed developmental assessments
for ICA children as well as ongoing monitoring and intervention in specific areas of
development. According to the findings there is also an urgent need for more
information regarding the impact of early adversity, especially for teachers and
professionals working with ICA children. The significant finding, that teachers who
have psychology as part of their training had a better understanding of the effects
of early adversity, suggests that consideration should be given to the concept of a
module in psychology being included in all teacher training.

Keywords:social interaction, school engagement, Ireland, childhood, adoption
Subjects:X Education > X320 Academic studies in Primary Education
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Education
ID Code:44897
Deposited On:12 May 2021 09:10

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