Courtney Valentine
Courtney Valentine

Courtney Valentine, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, and a 2014 recipient of the Harry E. and Bernice M. Moore Fellowship from the Hogg Foundation, has recently completed her dissertation, “The Impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms and Protective Factors on Transition Factors for Youth Investigated for Maltreatment During Adolescence.” Her study is an important contribution to the literature on transition-age youth (TAY), young adults who are transitioning out of the foster care system.

Since its establishment in 1995, the Harry E. and Bernice M. Moore Fellowship has been awarded to students from The University of Texas at Austin to complete a dissertation on the human experience in crises resulting from natural or other major disasters or, in a broader sense, stress and adversity.

In recent years, the Hogg Foundation has made identifying and addressing the needs of TAY a strategic priority of its grantmaking. This interest is driven by research and experience that shows that TAY with mental health conditions require special services and supports in order to cope with the challenges of aging out of one system and transitioning into a new adult system that may not be prepared to meet their developmental needs. In 2013, the foundation launched its Transition-Age Youth and Families initiative, with a focus on Houston/Harris County.

We spoke with Courtney Valentine about her research.

Tell us about yourself. At what point did you decide to pursue this particular line of research, and what influenced that decision?

I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after college and spent the year a case manager in a group home for foster and probation adolescents. My job was to help many of the youth transition out of foster care. I realized then how vulnerable this population is and how many services are needed to help these youth. I have continued to work with transitioning aged foster youth as a CASA volunteer and therapist for many years.

Your dissertation is titled, “The Impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Symptoms and Protective Factors on Transition Factors for Youth Investigated for Maltreatment During Adolescence.” What questions are you trying to answer with this work?

I was interested in better understanding things that influenced youth’s successful transition to adulthood from foster care. Specifically, I was interested in the role of trauma and other protective factors impacting this transition.

What gap in the literature will be filled by your study? Who stands to benefit from it?

I hope that this study will highlight the importance of protective factors for adolescents in the foster care system. This study is unique in its inclusion of both risk and protective factors in the process. The aim of this study is to inform both future research and practice for this vulnerable population.

How do you think your research methods and approach will help you to answer the questions that you’re posing?

I chose to use latent variable structural equation modeling (SEM) for my analysis because it allows for the construction of causal models based on previous research and theory to estimate not only direct effects between variables, but also indirect effects of mediating variables, which allows further understanding of how one variable affects another. In addition, latent variable SEM allows for the estimation of latent variables using multiple measured indicators to more closely approximate the construct being tested.

Are there any suggested readings you can recommend for those who might be interested in learning more about the topic?

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network’s website has many wonderful free resources for children, parents, teachers, and clinicians.