Positive School Climate Reduces Depression and Suicidal Ideation for Foster Youth
A May 2018 study titled, “The role of school climate in rates of depression and suicidal ideation among school-attending foster youth in California public schools” examined how school environment impacted depression and suicidal ideation for foster youth. Among the most disturbing finding is that female foster youth have extremely high rates of both depression and suicidal ideation compared to both male foster youth and other vulnerable populations such as LGBTQ youth.
A startling 50.5% of female foster youth studied reported depression tendency, and 36.3% also reported suicidal ideation. Thirty-two point seven percent of male foster youth reported depression tendency and 21.0% reported suicidal ideation. The rates of depression and suicidal ideation for female foster youth is much higher than the rates for other at-risk populations identified in the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS). Additionally, white foster youth were at a higher risk for depression and suicidal ideation than Latinx or Black foster youth.
The research showed that a supportive school climate was a protective factor for both depression and suicidal ideation. According to the researchers, “The current study draws from multiple components of school climate, which have been assessed in previous studies, such as caring relationships, high expectations from school adults, perceived safety, and meaningful participation. These dimensions of school climate promote well-being, academic success, and pro-social behavior among youth, in general (Elliot et al., 2010; Marachi, Astor, & Benbenishty, 2006; Thapa et al., 2013; Wilson, 2004).” p. 150. One surprising finding was that high expectations, which is usually considered part of a supportive school environment had a positive association with suicidal ideation.
Although a supportive school environment has been well-documented as having positive outcomes for all students, this study shows that such an environment is even more important, and, in fact, essential, for the well-being of foster youth. Additionally, the study indicates that female foster youth, in particular, need support and environments to reduce their levels of depression and suicidal ideation.