COPMI - Children of Parents with a Mental Illness - Keeping families in mind

Young People - connectedness

This section of 'Evaluating your intervention' is a guide to using connectedness as an evaluation criteria for young people and will be useful for programs or interventions with strategies that focus on improving young people's connectedness.

Connectedness represents the fundamental human desire for interpersonal relationships with others. Connectedness is especially important for children of parents with a mental illness as research has consistently shown that higher levels of connectedness are associated with positive mental health and wellbeing, and low levels of connectedness are linked to negative social and psychological outcomes in children and increased risk-taking behaviour and isolation in adolescence. The World Health Organization identifies family connectedness as one of the top five protective factors for youth wellbeing (2007).

Programs or interventions aiming to enhance young people's level of connectedness might focus on providing them with opportunities to:

  • form social relationships
  • improve existing connections
  • develop additional connections to wider community sources.

Note: We thank Janelle Levesque for her work in developing this section.

Click the headings to read more.

Connectedness - the concept

The foundation of connectedness is 'positive relationships and experiences with others, and more specifically, relationships and experiences from which [children and] youth garner esteem and competence' (Karcher, Holcomb & Zambrano, 2006).

Connectedness is crucial for young people and contributes to their sense of self, psychological wellbeing, academic performance and social competence. A lack of connectedness is linked to a range of negative outcomes, including social withdrawal and loneliness, risk-taking behaviour in adolescents (eg early commencement of smoking, drinking and sexual relations), and increased risk of juvenile delinquency.

This section focuses on the features of connectedness, breaks down the different forms of connectedness and related concepts, and reviews some measures designed to assess this concept.

Theoretical background

Connectedness encompasses the caring and supportive relationships of the child or adolescent and is thought to be a critical factor in mental health and wellbeing. Theoretically, the concept sits within:

  • attachment theory (in relation to maternal or paternal connectedness)
  • resilience theory (in relation to the protective influence relationships with significant others may provide).

Attachment theory proposes that the infant's first attachment experience has a profound influence on their subsequent cognitive and emotional development (Bowlby, 1969; 1988). Specifically, the quality of the bond between parent and child, encompassing the mutuality and duration of that bond, is a significant factor in the child's sense of connectedness (Lezin et al., 2004). Research has demonstrated that a positive relationship with one parent during infancy and early childhood is a protective factor for the child's psychological health (Rutter, 1979). Attachment failure has been linked to personality problems, low self-esteem and poor social skills in children (Bowlby, 1977).

In resilience theory (see Resilience), the concept of connectedness is expanded beyond just the maternal or paternal relationship to encompass non-traditional attachment figures. This view of connectedness recognises the potential protective influence of strong external relationships and connections, a factor that may be critically important for children of parents with a mental illness. The protective factors of social skills, family ties and cohesion (Hoge, Austin & Pollack, 2007) are considered part of resilience, as are external support systems such as positive connections with peers, teachers and school, and participation in activities. Consequently, the inclination or ability for connectedness can be considered both a human strength and protective factor that 'modify, ameliorate, or alter a person's response to some environmental hazard that predisposes them to a maladaptive outcome' (Rutter, 1985, p. 600). Conceptually, connectedness to others also overlaps with the terms family resilience (Gardner et al., 2008), resilient communities (Walsh, 2007) and resilient neighbourhoods (Mowbray et al., 2007).

Definition of connectedness and related concepts

Connectedness has been defined in numerous ways that encompass aspects of relatedness, belongingness and social connections. However, arguments now say that connectedness is a separate concept from these related terms. Several dimensions of connectedness (eg social, family, school, community) also make it difficult to clearly define the concept.

This section aims to provide a clear definition of connectedness and describe several of its dimensions.

Connectedness: 'Connection occurs when a person is actively involved with another person, object, group or environment, and that involvement promotes a sense of comfort, well-being and anxiety reduction' (Hagerty, Lynch-Sauer, Patusky & Bouwsema, 1993, p. 293)

Social connectedness: An internal sense of belonging that reflects the individual's subjective awareness of being in close relationship with the social world (Lee & Robbins, 1998). Social connectedness encompasses close and distal relationships with family, friends, peers, community and the wider society.

Parent-child connectedness: The degree of closeness or warmth experienced in the relationship children have with their parents. High levels of parent-child connectedness are thought to contribute to daily interactions that are largely free from conflict, animosity and mistrust whilst also serving as a buffer against various stressors (Lezin et al., 2004).

Family connectedness: Feeling understood, loved, wanted and paid attention to by family members (Blum, 1997). Family connectedness also encompasses parent-child connectedness.

Peer connectedness: A feeling of being positively connected with peers, encompassing being accepted by friends and possessing social competence to interact with others (Wilkenfeld et al., 2008).

School connectedness: A sense of belongingness at school and relatedness to teachers and peers (Karcher, Holcomb & Zambrano, 2006).

Community connectedness: A strong connection with community characterised by a 'sense of identity or feeling of belonging to the community, good relationships with neighbours and others ... and a number of links with people or groups from outside the immediate group' (Tomison, 1999).

Belongingness: The human drive to form and maintain meaningful and positive relationships with others (Williams & Galliher, 2006). Although connectedness and belongingness are often used interchangeably in the literature, it is argued that connectedness represents a global sense of the self in relation to the social world while belongingness is a basic human drive.

Disconnectedness: Social isolation and a lack of close personal and intra-community relationships (Elliott, 2006).

Measures of connectedness

Several scales may be useful in assessing aspects of connectedness amongst various child and adolescent populations (see details below).

Note that the concept of connectedness is also measured within several of the resilience and family functioning measures. Resilience measures that may be used include:

  • Resiliency Scales for Children and Adolescents: A Profile of Personal Strengths which assesses a 'sense of relatedness' as one core concept
  • Social-Emotional Assets and Resilience Scales which assesses 'interpersonal skills' and 'friendships'
  • Resilience and Youth Development Module which measures 'school protective factors', 'community protective factors', 'peer protective factors', 'home protective factors' and 'youth connectedness to school, home, community and peer group'.

Family functioning measures that may be used include:

  • Family Assessment Device which examines communication, affective responsiveness and affective involvement
  • Family Adaptability and Cohesion Evaluation Scale (FACES IV), designed to measure family cohesion and flexibility.

 

The Hemingway Measure of Adolescent Connectedness (MAC 5)

This research-derived measure examines four major components of adolescent connectedness. The scale is designed to assess students in Grades 6-12. Long (78 item) and short (57 item) versions are available, as is a version for late adolescent connectedness (75 items suitable for use with university students).

Structure of the measure

The four major components examined in the scale are:

  1. school
  2. family (parents and siblings)
  3. friends and romantic partners
  4. self.

The long version contains 15 subscales, the short version 10. Adolescents answer using a 5-point Likert scale indicating the level of truth or agreement with a statement. A sixth response option, unclear, is available.

Construct validity

The MAC 5 has demonstrated good convergent validity through correlations with other measures of connectedness including:

  • the School and Family Connectedness Scales
  • the Family, Friends and Self Form
  • the Social Connectedness Scale.

Reliability

The manual reports internal consistency ratings for connectedness to self (alphas range from 0.77-0.86), connectedness to others (alphas range from 0.71-0.94), and connectedness to society (alphas range from 0.80-0.92), constituting an acceptable to excellent level of reliability.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

Details of the scale's development are outlined in:

Karcher, M. J. (2001). The Hemingway: Measure of adolescent connectedness - validation studies.

Availability of the scale

The measures and manual are freely available for use from the Hemingway measure of adolescent connectedness website.

 

Kids Connections Scale

The Kids Connections Scale examines a broad range of possible connections for older children and young adolescents (aged 8-12 years). A modified version is also available for older adolescents.

Structure of the measure

The Kids Connections Scale consists of two sections:

  • Section 1 asks about the number of friendships, amount of time spent with friends, and number of people they could turn to if they faced a problem.
  • Section 2 examines the frequency of connections with mum, dad, brothers and sisters, other relatives, teacher, classmates, friends, and coach or other adult.

Factor analysis suggests that the scale consists of three factors:

  1. Family
  2. Peers
  3. Other adults

The measure is designed to be attractive to complete and to minimise the necessary level of children's or young adolescents' cognitive skills. Children rate the frequency of their connections using a visual scale based on smiling faces that get larger as the frequency of the connection increases.

Construct validity

All connections showed a positive relationship with self-esteem and problem-focused coping consistent with existing research.

Reliability

The highest reliability is reported for the Peers factor with an alpha of 0.67. This is below the 0.7 standard of reliability that is generally accepted, therefore caution is urged when using this scale. Also, the data reported is unpublished.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

The Kids Connections Scale demonstrates promise as a tool suitable for assessing connections in older children and young adolescents. At this stage, research is needed to confirm the suggested factor structure and further investigate the measure's reliability and validity.

Availability of the scale

The measure is available for download from Quantifying Connections.

 

Social Connectedness Scale - Revised (SCS-R)

The SCS-R assesses one's feeling of interpersonal closeness with others.

Structure of the measure

The scale contains 20 self-report items (10 positive and 10 negative) covering three factors. Participants respond using a 6-point Likert scale ranging from 'strongly disagree' to 'strongly agree'.

Construct validity

The validity of the SCS-R has been established through correlational studies. Specifically, the SCS-R correlates negatively with measures of loneliness, social avoidance, social distress, social discomfort and dysfunctional interpersonal behaviours. The SCS-R is positively correlated with measures of collective self-esteem and independent self-construal (an individual's sense of self in relation to others).

Reliability

The report detailing the psychometric properties of the SCS-R states that the internal reliability alpha is 0.92 which reflects an excellent level of reliability.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

The revised version includes positively-worded connectedness items and addresses some of the psychometric shortfallings of the original measure. See Lee, R. M., Draper, M. and Lee, S. (2001) for more information (Other references).

While the Social Connectedness Scale has been used in research, it is not designed specifically for use with children and adolescents, so you will need to consider the reading level of the intended participant.

Availability of the scale

The measure is included in:

Lee, R. M., Draper, M. & Lee, S. (2001). Social connectedness, dysfunctional interpersonal behaviours, and psychological distress: testing a mediator model. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 48, 310-318.

Permission to use the scale must be obtained from the authors prior to use.

 

Inventory of Parent and Peer Attachment - Revised (IPPA - R)

This scale examines attachment in children and young adolescents aged 9-15 years.

Structure of the measure

This 53-item measure examines parent (28 items) and peer (25 items) attachment along the dimensions of trust, communication and alienation. The revised scale has a simplified response format with only three options (always true, sometimes true, never true).

Construct validity

Construct validity has been demonstrated through correlations showing positive relationships with other measures such as:

  • Parental Bonding Instrument
  • Coopersmith Self-Esteem Inventory School Form.

Reliability

Overall, the IPPA- R reports acceptable to good levels of internal consistency for all subscales. The reported reliabilities of the subscales are:

  • Parent attachment (trust) = 0.78
  • Parent attachment (communication) = 0.82
  • Parent attachment (alienation) = 0.79
  • Peer attachment (trust) = 0.86
  • Peer attachment (communication) = 0.87
  • Peer attachment (alienation) = 0.69.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

The revision of the IPPA was conducted in an Australian setting so the reported means represent tentative Australian norms.

The original IPPA is a psychometrically sound instrument suitable for use with older adolescents (aged 16-20 years). The IPPA demonstrates very good internal consistency (alpha ranges from 0.72-0.91), strong test-retest reliability (alpha = 0.83) and solid validity demonstrated through its relationships with other measures such as the Social Self-Concept Scale, Family Environment Scale (see Family functioning), and Tennessee Self-Concept Measure.

The development of the IPPA is outlined in: Armsden, G. C. & Greenberg, M. T. (1987). The inventory of parent and peer attachment: individual differences and their relationship to psychological well being in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 16, 427-454.

Availability of the scale

The scale is included in the article:

Gullone, E. & Robinson, K. (2005). The inventory of parent and peer attachment - revised (IPPA-R) for children: a psychometric investigation. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 12, 67-79.

The IPPA is available for download from St. Joseph's College Faculty website.

 

People in my Life Measure (PIML)

This scale examines the individual's attachment to parents, peers, teachers and school, and neighbourhood.

Structure of the measure

The PIML uses similar subscales to the IPPA - parent attachment (trust, communication and alienation), peer attachment (trust, communication and alienation), attachment to teachers (affiliation and dissatisfaction), school connectedness (bonds and perceived dangerousness) and peer delinquency. The peer delinquency questions aim to determine whether the child has strong attachments to deviant peer groups and may therefore be at risk of problem behaviours and/or psychopathology.

Construct validity

There is strong evidence for the PIML's validity. The parent, peer, teacher and school subscales correlate with measures of social adjustment and emotional functioning in the expected direction (eg positive correlations between parental attachment and emotional adjustment). The delinquency items also correlate in expected patterns (eg strong negative correlation between delinquency and communication with parents).

Reliability

The PIML possesses strong internal consistency for the parental attachment (alpha = 0.88) and peer subscales (alpha = 0.90). The reliability of the peer delinquency subscale is slightly lower than acceptable (alpha = 0.68) but that may be due to the subscale only possessing three items. For teacher and schoolconnectedness the reported alphas range from 0.60-0.88.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

The PIML is largely based on the IPPA and allows data to be collected from children aged 10-12 years. The Fast Track Program in the United States, which aims to prevent serious and chronic antisocial behaviour in at-risk children, has used a 30-item version of the PIML.

Availability of the scale

Contact the study author, Mark Greenberg, to obtain a copy of the PIML, email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Programs or interventions

Families where a Parent has a Mental Illness (FaPMI) (formerly the VicChamps project): a strategic objective is to provide a family-focused response.

On Track - Northern Kids Care: this early intervention and preventative support program for children or young people aged up to 18 years recognises that isolation and social support may be an issue for children and young people.

Paying Attention to Self (PATS): this program was developed in response to identified lack of support and resources for adolescents whose parents have a mental illness but has now closed.

Key readings

Lezin, N., Rolleri, L. A., Bean, S. & Taylor, J. (2004). Parent-child connectedness: implications for research, interventions, and positive impacts on adolescent health. Available for download.

Townsend, K. C. & McWhirter, B. T. (2005). Connectedness: a review of the literature with implications for counseling, assessment and research. Journal of Counseling and Development, 83, 191-201.

Other references

Armsden, G. C. & Greenberg, M. T. (1987). The inventory of parent and peer attachment: individual differences and their relationship to psychological well being in adolescence. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 16, 427-54.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and loss, Vol. 1: Attachment. London: Pimlico.

Bowlby, J. (1977). The making and breaking of affectionate bonds. British Journal of Psychiatry, 130, 201-10.

Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: clinical applications of Attachment Theory. Bristol: Arrowsmith.

Gardner, D. L., Huber, C. H., Steiner, R. L., Vázquez, L. A. & Savage, T. A. (2008). The development and validation of the Inventory of Family Protective Factors: a brief assessment for family counseling. The Family Journal, 16, 2, 107-17.

Gullone, E. & Robinson, K. (2005). The inventory of parent and peer attachment - revised (IPPA-R) for children: a psychometric investigation. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 12, 67-79.

Hoge, E. A., Austin, E. D. & Pollack, M. H. (2007). Resilience: research evidence and conceptual considerations for posttraumatic stress disorder. Depression and Anxiety, 24, 2, 139-52.

Karcher, M. J. (2001). The Hemingway: Measure of adolescent connectedness - validation studies. Available for download.

Karcher, M. J., Holcomb, M. R. & Zambrano, E. (2006). Measuring adolescent connectedness: a guide for school-based assessment and program evaluation. Available for download.

Lee, R. M. & Robbins, S. B. (1998). The relationship between social connectedness and anxiety, self-esteem, and social identity. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45, 3, July, 338-45.

Lee, R. M., Draper, M. & Lee, S. (2001). Social connectedness, dysfunctional interpersonal behaviours, and psychological distress: testing a mediator model. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 48, 310-18.

Mowbray, C. T., Woolley, M. E., Grogan-Kaylor, A., Gant, L. M., Gilster, M. E. & Shanks, T. R. (2007). Neighborhood research from a spatially oriented strengths perspective. Journal of Community Psychology, 35, 5, 667-80.

Rutter, M. (1979). Protective factors in children's responses to stress and disadvantage. In M.W. Kent & J.E. Rolf (Eds.), Social competence in children (pp. 49-74). Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.

Rutter, M. (1985). Resilience in the face of adversity: protective factors and resistance to psychiatric disorder. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 147, 598-611.

Tomison, A. M. (1999). Creating the vision: communities and connectedness. National Child Protection Clearing House, Australian Institute of Family Studies. Available for download.

Walsh, F. (2007). Traumatic loss and major disasters: strengthening family and community resilience. Family Process, 46, 2, 207-27.

Williams, K. L. & Galliher, R.V. (2006). Predicting depression and self-esteem from social connectedness, support, and competence. Journal of Social and Cinical Psychology, 25, 8, 855-74.

World Health Organization (WHO)/Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) Forum. (2007). Social cohesion for mental well-being among adolescents. Available for download.