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Peer Support Buffering for Post-Institutionalized vs Non-adopted Children on Psychosocial Outcomes

The project aims to understand whether peer functioning can help to reduce the negative outcomes of early life stress in the form of institutional (e.g., orphanage or hospital) care. Previous research suggests that early life institutional care is considered an early life stressor due high risk for social, physical, and emotional deprivation (Maclean, 2003). Although it is known that high social support is associated with better social and emotional outcomes for teens, there is some evidence that youth adopted from institutions may not receive the same physiological benefits from social support as non-adopted teens raised in their biological families (Hostinar et al., 2015). However, the effectiveness of peer support on emotional and behavioral outcomes for post-institutionalized youth has rarely been explored. As a result, the current study examines whether peers can buffer from negative socioemotional and academic outcomes following stress. To investigate, 50 post-institutionalized adolescents, 33 non-adopted adolescents, and their primary parent came into the lab to answer a series of questionnaires. Parents and adolescents provided information about the number of negative life events in the past 12 months, peer functioning, and internalizing symptoms, externalizing symptoms, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, and academic functioning. Overall, PI youth reported greater internalizing, externalizing, and ADHD symptoms, and poorer academic functioning. Greater peer functioning predicted lower internalizing symptoms and greater academic functioning. There was no evidence that peer functioning was less effective in reducing emotional and behavioral problems in the context of life stress for PI youth. The results suggests that future research should focus on how to support post-institutionalized youth and how to strengthen peer relationships to improve emotional and behavioral outcomes.