Trauma is only part of the story: Strengths moderate the relationship between trauma and needs for older youth in foster care

Tawny R. Spinelli*, Ellie Bruckner, Neil Jordan, Cassandra L. Kisiel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Many youth in foster care endure traumatic experiences (TE) that can lead to lasting negative outcomes. However, the identification of strengths may mitigate the impact of TE. Methods: This study examines the frequency and distribution of identified strengths; whether strengths moderate the association between TE and various outcomes; and whether certain strengths have a larger moderation effect on the association between TE and life domain functioning. Administrative and clinical data, including the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment, were examined for 3324 transition age youth and emerging adults in out-of-home foster care in the United States. Participants were males and females between 14.5 and 21 years old. Pearson's chi-square tests of association were conducted to determine whether identification of strengths varied significantly by sex or race/ethnicity. Negative binomial regressions were used to determine whether strengths modified the association between TE and needs domains. Results: Of 11 measured strengths, 56% of youth had 7 or more strengths identified as centerpiece strengths, and 20% had all 11. No significant differences in identification of strengths were found across sex or race/ethnicity. All strengths significantly moderated the association of TE and outcomes across CANS domains tested. While cumulative strengths had the largest overall moderation effects, identification of education setting, coping and savoring skills, and interpersonal strengths as centerpiece strengths had the largest moderation effect among specific strengths. Conclusions: Findings suggest assessing, identifying, and bolstering strengths may help to promote well-being after trauma exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1435-1448
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Adolescence
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • emerging adults
  • protective factors
  • resilience
  • strengths
  • transition age youth
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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