This mixed methods inquiry examined the school functioning of elementary school-aged children with maltreatment histories and mild cognitive or behavioral disabilities. Quantitative analyses of linked social service and education administrative data bases of 10,394 children in Minnesota with maltreatment histories indicated that 32% were eligible for special education services. Of those children with maltreatment histories and identified disabilities, 73% had mild cognitive or behavioral disabilities. The most frequent primary disabilities categories were specific learning disabilities (33%) and emotional/behavioral disabilities (27%).
Children with maltreatment histories and mild cognitive or behavioral disabilities scored significantly below children with maltreatment histories and no identified disabilities on standardized assessments of math and reading, and this gap increased with grade level for math. Qualitative interviews with 22 child welfare professionals and 15 educators suggested why some children with maltreatment histories, especially those with mild cognitive or behavioral disabilities, struggle in school. Risks to school functioning included children”s and families” multiple unmet basic and mental health needs which can mask or overshadow children”s mild disabilities; poor cross systems collaboration between child welfare, education and mental health systems; and inadequate funding, especially for mental health services. Protective factors included child engagement in school, parent engagement with child welfare services and a professional culture of cross-systems collaboration. Implications are discussed for holistic child, family and system-level interventions.
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