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What can help dropouts?

Certain life experiences can worsen the negative effects of dropping out, but some interventions and treatments can help change the odds for dropouts

Duke University

DURHAM, N.C. -- Certain life experiences can worsen the negative effects of dropping out of school, but interventions and treatments can improve the odds for dropouts, a new study finds.

The study, available online today in the June edition of Journal of Adolescent Health, followed 585 children from age 5 to age 27. It looked at what factors elevated children's risk of dropping out, how high school dropouts fared later in life and what factors prevented negative outcomes.

The participants were from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and lived in Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee, and Bloomington, Indiana. By age 24, 14 percent of participants had dropped out and had not received a GED, comparable to national statistics.

Researchers found that, compared to high school graduates, the dropouts were three times more likely to have been arrested by age 18 and four times as likely to need government assistance by age 27. They were also twice as likely to be fired from a job two or more times, to have used drugs in the past six months and to report poor health by age 27.

In addition, most dropouts faced multiple hardships as adults, not just one. Researchers found dropouts were 24 times more likely than high school graduates to experience four or more negative outcomes by age 27.

However, researchers found the risk for negative life outcomes for dropouts - such as getting arrested, needing government assistance, being fired or having poor health -declined if they received treatment for behavioral, emotional or drug problems by age 24.

"It suggests that treatment can serve as a turning point," said lead researcher Jennifer E. Lansford, a Duke University research professor of public policy and a faculty fellow of the university's Center for Child and Family Policy. "It could make it more likely for you to hold a job or not be in jail. It's evidence that these kinds of treatments can work."

Researchers also found dropouts suffered more problems in later life if they were rejected by classmates in elementary school or became parents themselves at a young age. Improving peer relationships in elementary schools and reducing teen pregnancies are thus worthy investments and may even help reduce the drop-out rate, the authors suggest.

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This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (MH56961, MH57024 and MH57095), the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD30572) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA016903, 2K05 DA015226).

CITATION: "A Public Health Perspective on School Dropout and Adult Outcomes: A Prospective Study of Risk and Protective Factors From Age 5 to 27 Years," Jennifer E. Lansford, Kenneth A. Dodge, Gregory S. Pettit, John E. Bates. Journal of Adolescent Health, June 2016. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.01.014

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