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Risk profiles of children entering residential care: A cluster analysis

Jessica L Hagaman, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Children in residential care have been described as a heterogeneous population, presenting various combinations of risks. Existing studies on children in residential care suggest high variability across multiple domains (e.g., academics, behavior, mental health) but no studies have begun to further evaluate this variability. Given this heterogeneity, it does not seem appropriate to only describe this population using overall group characteristics (e.g., academic achievement, externalizing behavior), mean scores for specific subgroups (e.g., children with disabilities, males), or to assume that the overall group data correctly represents all children in residential care. Rather, it is important to begin to identify the combinations and patterns of multiple risks, or risk profiles, these children present. The investigation of risk factors and their relationship to negative outcomes (e.g., school dropout, substance abuse, incarceration) has been the focus of researchers for decades. Understanding risk factors and combinations of risks is important, as the literature has shown multiple risks can increase the likelihood of negative outcomes. For children in residential care who are already at risk for negative life outcomes, the investigation of risk profiles and the possible impact of multiple risks on future outcomes should begin to be investigated. The purpose of this dissertation was to evaluate the academic and behavioral risk profiles of children entering residential care. The dissertation addressed two questions: (1a) do identifiable clusters or risk profiles of characteristics exist in children entering residential care? and (1b) do identified clusters of children differ on demographic, critical event (e.g., abuse, neglect), and mental health variables? Cluster analysis procedures using academic and behavior variables revealed three distinct profiles of children: (Group 1) Average Janes, characterized by average academic skills, no behavior problems, and some demographic risks; (Group 2) Academic Risks, characterized by low academics and increased rule-breaking behavior; and finally (Group 3) Behavioral Risks, characterized by average academics and elevated behaviors. These finding are discussed along with limitations, directions for future research, and implications of these findings are discussed.^

Subject Area

Education, Special

Recommended Citation

Hagaman, Jessica L, "Risk profiles of children entering residential care: A cluster analysis" (2009). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3352339.