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There are many risk factors, warning signs and triggers associated with teens’ suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

One factor that may reduce the likelihood of suicidal thoughts and behaviors is school connectedness. School connectedness is the amount of association or ties a youth has with the school they attend, such as links with teachers and other personnel, participation extracurricular activities, and enjoyment of specific school subjects or events.

School connectedness seems to be a strong “protective factor” against many risky behaviors, including self-harm. This means that being connected to one’s school seems to lower the risk of self-harm.

Marraccini and Brier (2017) reviewed the strongest previously published studies involving almost 200,000 youth in grades 6 – 12.

Findings:

They found a very strong link between school connectedness and fewer suicidal thoughts or attempts. This finding remained strong across ethnic and racial groups and was especially evident for youth considered “high risk” and for sexual minority teens.

These findings are very important, especially for understanding the role of school connectness for already vulnerable youth, including transition age youth in foster care.

5 takeaways from this study:

• Foster youth should remain in one school and not experience school placement disruption, except in emergencies.
• Foster youth need at least one clearly identified school official (teacher, coach, school counselor, administrator) with whom they feel connected. The youth’s social worker should facilitate these connections as needed.
• Foster youth should be asked periodically if they feel connected to school activities and groups. For LGBTQ youth in care, a connection to a Gay-Straight Alliance (https://gsanetwork.org) is extremely important.
• Foster youth should be connected to at least one extra-curricular group of their choosing.
• Social workers and foster parents should periodically review the connections foster youth have with their schools to insure that links remain in place.

To review and order a FREE laminated card of risk factors, warning signs and triggers plus what to do if a youth is suicidal, please email us at info@DownsConsultingGroup.com.

Original article citation: Marraccini, M. E, & Brier, Z. M. F. (2017). School connectedness and suicidal thoughts and behaviors: A systematic meta-analysis. School Psychology Quarterly, 32(1), 5 – 21.

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Dr. Chris Downs has devoted much of his professional career to improving services and outcomes for older, at-risk youth. Chris is President of The Downs Group LLC, based in Seattle and has the pleasure of working with many talented professionals in child welfare and allied areas including his company Associates.