|dc.description.abstract||Pacific children experience a disproportionate number of mental health difficulties (Craig, Jackson, Han, & NZCYES Steering Committee, 2007). The World Health Organization (2013) recognizes that 50 percent of all mental health disorders have already begun before the age of 14 and are the main factors underlying disability in adolescence. Internalising and externalising behaviours in children can precede many mental health disorders that have a detrimental effect on other family members and relationships and have the potential to impair a child’s development, educational achievement and their ability to lead normal lives (Cicchetti, 1984). Therefore, it is important to examine the factors that influence the development of these problems in children of Pacific Island descent in the pre-adolescent years. It is anticipated that findings from this research project will assist health practitioners to identify and support ‘at risk’ children.
The aims of this study were to (1) identify the distribution of internalising and externalising behaviours in Pacific Island children at 11- years-of-age, (2) isolate the social factors associated with internalising and externalising behaviours at 11-years of age, and (3) explore the relationships between family, childhood and socio-economic factors to determine whether specific combinations of factors potentially have a greater effect on behaviour.
Design and methods
The research project uses anonymous secondary data from the Pacific Islands Families Study (PIFS) which is a longitudinal, multi-disciplined study that follows a birth cohort of 1376 Pacific babies and their families born at Middlemore Hospital in 2000. For this thesis, a cross sectional design is used to examine the associations between children’s internalising and externalising behaviour and family circumstances and other variables that have been collected at the 11-year phase (Domholdt, 2005). Data collection utilised a multi-informant approach, including child, parent and teacher participants. Social variables of interest for this thesis are family characteristics (mother’s marital status and family stability, mother’s education), child characteristics (child gender, ethnicity, cultural alignment, achievement at school, peer relationships exposure to bullying and involvement) and socio economic characteristics (mothers and father’s income and household size).
Findings from the study indicated that the majority of children show no or minimal signs of externalising or internalising behaviours. However, larger than expected numbers of children identified as being involved in bullying, feeling marginalised or having family members or friends that were part of a gang.
Analysis showed that there were individual factors that increased the risk of either internalising or externalising behaviours. The study also established that there were specific combinations of factors that had cumulatively greater significance on children’s internalising and externalising behaviours. There was increased likelihood of internalising behaviours for children who were female, had good relationships with their parents, difficulties in forming good relationships with other children, did not consider themselves as being good at sport, and had family members who were part of a gang. The study found that an increased likelihood of externalising behaviours was predominantly associated with socio-economic disadvantage; children with mothers in a less stable relationships, had poor reading ability, were from a low income family, lived in crowded households and had family members who were part of a gang.
Findings from this study should be considered in relation to the possible protective factors; conditions or circumstances that provide positive adaptation despite the presence of risk factors. The ability for children to maintain good quality friendships with peers and caregivers, achieve at school and in sport and develop a satisfactory level of performance in sporting activities build self-confidence are seen as having positive prognostic implications and associated with a reduction in the likelihood of internalising behaviours developing. It is suggested that improving family stability and financial circumstances will help to reduce the prevalence of externalising behaviours.
This study has successfully identified the distribution of internalising and externalising behaviours (measured as scores) in Pacific Island children at 11 years, old and isolated the social factors associated with internalising and externalising behaviours. It has also established that specific combinations of family, childhood and socio-economic factors have a greater significance.
Many of the findings in this study are consistent with the literature and should assist health professionals broadly identify at-risk children. The findings from this study also support government policy initiatives that focus on addressing health and social disparities.||en_NZ