Kathryn Hoff et al
The majority of residents in residential treatment are characterized as delinquent and aggressive. Rejected children in residential treatment have high levels of problem behavior (Blitz & Glenwick, 1990), demonstrate lower social competence than accepted peers in residential treatment (Connolly, 1987), and have likely endured a long history of not being well liked. The dearth of research pertaining to rejected children in residential treatment is problematic insofar as many residents ultimately return to mainstream community placements (Larzelere, Daly, Davis, Chmelka, & Handwerk, 2002). Accordingly, detailed information about the social affiliations and peer group configuration of rejected youth with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders EBD in restricted settings is essential.
When one considers that problematic behaviors are typically supported within the context of a peer group, the need to understand the social networks of students with EBD, particularly those students who are rejected, becomes manifest. Clustering of social groups is not a random process. Instead, as children develop, they purposefully engage in a variety and an increasing number of relationships, actively shaping their social environment by selecting the significant individuals to include within their social networks (Cauce, 1986). Current theories have suggested that children and adolescents generally affiliate with other youth who will support their behavior (either prosocial or antisocial) and youth who present similar behaviors (Farmer & Farmer, 1996; Farmer et al., 1999). Through a lack of selection availability of nondeviant peers due to peer rejection (Coie, Dodge, & Kupersmidt, 1990), similarity of behaviors (Farmer & Hollowell, 1994), or reinforcement for their own deviant behaviors (Dishion, Andrews, & Crosby, 1995), children who are rejected or engage in antisocial behaviors may actively seek out a deviant peer group to engage in preferred behaviors. The deviant peer group provides increased opportunities for children to engage in deviant and antisocial acts as they become older, as well as a socially acceptable venue to engage in deviant behavior (e.g., Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1994). For example, aggressive, antisocial children report being friends with one another (Dishion, Andrews, et al., 1995; Kupersmidt, Burchinal, & Patterson, 1995), provide verbal support for rule-breaking behavior (Dishion, Capaldi, Spracklen, & Li, 1995), and group together in aggressive networks (Cairns et al., 1988).
It is important to understand the intricacies of the social context of students with EBD because placement of youth within the peer group may lead to different socialization experiences. Briefly, peer groups are organized hierarchically, in that some youth are more socially prominent and influential while others are only peripheral members. Researchers have hypothesized that peripheral members, such as rejected youth, may be more prone toward conforming to group values in order to fit in or achieve higher status within the peer group (Bagwell et al., 2000; Estell et al., 2002). Exploring whether rejected children in residential treatment are peer group members and the placement of children within any such groups may provide a better under standing of peer rejection and group membership.
Further, residential or restricted environments offer the opportunity to
explore an entire social group. To date, a majority of peer group
investigations have been confined within analogue situations (e.g.,
sociometric play groups) or classroom settings and have been conducted with
elementary school children. However, children's friendships extend beyond
the classroom within a broader ecological context. For example, researchers
have found that children who are unpopular nominate more friends from
outside of the classroom and spend more time with younger classmates than
nonrejected children (George & Hartmann, 1996; Ladd, 1983). Accordingly,
exploring the social groups in a broader environment may reveal unique
attributes of the rejected child's peer group that may differ from
traditional studies that confine observations to the classroom setting.
The current study describes the social networks of children in residential treatment with or at risk for EBD. Expanding the research on the social relations of youth with EBD, particularly those who are rejected, is needed to provide a meaningful context for social development, thus increasing the effectiveness of interventions designed to prevent or ameliorate later problem behavior. Additionally, we assessed the social groups of the entire school to potentially explore unique attributes of the rejected child's peer group, gather a more realistic view of adolescents' social structure, and allow the detection of cross-age friendships and groupings.
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