Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts




Stewart, Shannon L.


School disengagement is associated with many negative consequences including substance use, delinquency, and dropping out. Understanding school disengagement can help provide targeted prevention and intervention strategies for students at risk. Currently, the impact of interpersonal trauma and polyvictimization on student engagement is not fully understood. To address this gap in the literature, data was obtained from 15402 clinically-referred children/youth (4 to 18-years-old) across the Province of Ontario using the interRAI Child and Youth Mental Health Assessment. Findings revealed that school engagement problems were predicted by physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; neglect; witnessing domestic violence; and polyvictimization. However, there was no significant difference in risk of school disengagement between children and youth exposed to one interpersonal trauma and those who experienced polyvictimization. Implications for school professionals and trauma-informed school initiatives are discussed.

Summary for Lay Audience

When children and youth are disengaged from school it impacts their academic performance, motivation to attend school, behaviour in the classroom, and is also associated with many adverse outcomes later in life, such as delinquency. Understanding the underlying factors contributing to school disengagement can help school staff effectively prevent and intervene when students are at risk of becoming disengaged as well as mitigate adverse outcomes for students who experience disengagement. The relationship between exposure to trauma and school disengagement is yet to be fully understood in the literature. Specifically, more information is needed on school disengagement and the impact of traumas which are interpersonal in nature (i.e., physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; neglect; and witnessing domestic violence) and exposure to multiple interpersonal traumas, known as polyvictimization. To address this gap in the literature, the present study examined interpersonal trauma and polyvictimization as predictors of school disengagement. Findings revealed that exposure to interpersonal trauma and polyvictimiztion predicted school disengagement problems. However, there was no significant difference in risk of school disengagement between those who were polyvictimized and those exposed to only one interpersonal trauma. These findings emphasize the importance of focusing on interpersonal trauma exposure as a risk factor for school disengagement and provide particular benefit to school staff trying to understand student’s behaviour and reduce disengagement from a trauma-informed perspective.