Laurie E. Powers

Date of Award

Spring 6-5-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work and Social Research

Physical Description

1 online resource (xiv, 170 pages)


Foster children -- Education -- Social conditions, Children with social disabilities -- Education, Learning disabled children -- Education, Teachers -- Attitudes, Stigma (Social psychology)




A large proportion of youth in foster care receive special education services, and poor educational outcomes are one of the most important difficulties facing these youth. One potential risk affecting the low educational achievements of youth in foster care and special education could be teachers' negative and stigmatizing comments toward them. Teachers' negative and stigmatizing comments could have negative effects on youths' behaviors, school attitudes and school performance. Yet, research on the nature and the impact of teachers' negative and stigmatizing comments remains limited.

Based on labeling and attribution theories, this study investigated the nature and impact of teachers' negative and stigmatizing comments on the school performance of 123 youth in foster care and special education. Qualitative analysis of the youths' IEP documents was conducted, along with longitudinal quantitative analysis of the associations of negative and stigmatizing IEP comments and the youths' school attitudes, behavior, and performance.

Qualitative findings revealed that almost three-fourths of the IEPs included one or more negative comments, and that a substantial proportion of teachers' negative comments specifically included stigmatizing features that could convey negative attitudes or perceptions about the youth to others, including subjective or judgmental comments, biased reports from other teachers, low expectations, and little attention to context or reason.

Findings from structural equation modeling showed that teachers' negative comments indirectly predicted youths' school absences through a mediational effect of youths' problem behaviors, and the relationship between current and future youth absences was partially mediated through a complex mechanism incorporating both direct and indirect pathways involving youths' school attitudes and problem behaviors. The findings highlight the important predictive and potentially protective roles of teachers' negative comments and youths' school attitudes and problem behaviors on youths' absenteeism.

Persistent Identifier