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Volume 22 Issue 5 (September 2019), Pages

Risk or resource: Does school climate moderate the influence of community violence on children’s social‐emotional development in the Democratic Republic of Congo?

Abstract Exposure to community violence is thought to create risk for the social and emotional development of children, including those children living in low‐income, conflict‐affected countries. In the absence of other types of community resources, schools may be one of the few community resources that can help buffer children from the negative effects of community violence exposure. We sampled 8,300 students ranging in age from 6–18 years in 123 schools from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to examine whether and how two distinct dimensions of positive school climate can protect two key features of children's social‐emotional development in the presence of community violence. Multi‐level models tested the hypothesis that students’ perceptions of a positive school climate moderated the relation between community violence and self‐reported mental health problems and peer victimization. Findings support the hypothesis. Specifically, a positive school climate protected against mental health problems and peer victimization in the presence of high community violence. Students who experienced high community violence and a negative school climate generally demonstrated the worst development. We find complex interactions between the dimensions of school climate and exposure to violence on student social‐emotional development that highlight the salience of children's contexts for developmental studies in low‐income countries. We use dynamic developmental systems theory and differential impact to discuss the dual potential of schools as a buffer against the effects of violence or as a source of compounded risk.

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