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Critique of Learning Difficulties Among Children Separated From a Parent 1

Critique of Learning Difficulties Among Children Separated From a Parent

By Kate Yandell

For Professor Leslie Lamb


September 8, 2009
Critique of Learning Difficulties Among Children Separated From a Parent 2


Children face many learning social and educational challenges as they progress

through school. Learning problems that school children normally have to deal with can be

exacerbated by their home environment (Jee, et al., 2008). The study “ Difficulties

Among Children Separated From a Parent” written by, Jee, Conn, Nilsen, Szilagyi,

Forbes-Jones, and Halterman attempts to study how parental separation affects a child’s

ability to learn and this paper will explore the qualifications of the authors, the test

methods and validity of the results (Jee, et al., 2008).

Author Qualifications

Sandra H. Jee is an M.D. certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. She has

been selected as a “Robert Wood Johnson Physician Faculty Scholar” (Jee, 2009). That is

a “three-year mentored career development award” and just one of many scholarly

awards and certifications she has received over the years (Jee, 2009). The majority or her

efforts have been in the area of research and pediatric medicine and she has fifteen

scholarly journals published (Jee, 2009).

Wendy J. Nilsen is a “clinical child psychologist” who graduated with her

doctorate from Purdue University (Nilsen, 2009). Dr. Nilsen’s research is primarily on

help for children and families involved in the court system (Nilsen, 2009). most

especially the foster care/adoptive children whose families are “engaged in the child

welfare system and domestic violence court” (Nilsen, 2009). Her clinical efforts include

working with “children, adolescents, and their families” (Nilsen, 2009).

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Dr. Szilagyi is has received national attention for her foster care health initiatives

and has edited the national health care standards, “Fostering Health: Health Care for

Children and Adolescents in Foster Care” (Szilagyi, 2009). This was published by the

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (Szilagyi, 2009). She assists with research

centers on “enhancing services to high-risk families” to prevent child abuse and improve

family and foster child functioning” (Szilagyi, 2009).

Doctor Emma L. Jones-Forbes is “Clinical Senior Instructor” for the University of

Rochester’s “Department of Psychiatry” (Forbes-Jones, 2009). She has earned her MA

and PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Rochester and BA in Psychology at

Barnard College.

Jill Halterman is currently Associate Professor and working for the Department of

Pediatrics (SMD) at the University of Rochester Medical Center (Halterman, 2009). She

has 56 scholarly journals to her credit and specializes in “general pediatrics” (Halterman,


The authors appear well qualified to produce a valid research project.

Objective and Test Methods

The researchers objective was to study children who were going through

separation from parents to see if there was a connection between their fractured home life

and increased learning difficulties (Jee, et al., 2008). Families and children were taken

from a “community-based sample” and a mixed method (qualitative and quantitative)

was used to do the research (Jee, et al., 2008).

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The information used was obtained through a “cross-sectional survey of children

between the ages of four to six years old, entering kindergarten in 2003 in the Rochester

City School District in Rochester, New York” (Jee, et al., 2008). These children were also

being admitted to kindergarten for the first time (Jee et al., 2008). Parents or caregivers

assisted with the research by completing a thorough health and developmental survey

called the “Parent's Appraisal of Children's Experiences survey” or PACE (Jee et al.,


The PACE survey was created to enhance current kindergarten screening by used

by teachers to include a “parental perspective of their child's skills” (Jee, et al., 2008)

This also allowed parental input in their health status, family situation, and other

important information that may influence the child’s learning difficulties (Jee, et al,

2008). This survey was used as part of the school enrollment process and successfully

obtained a response rate of 80% for a total of more than 1600 participating children (Jee

et al., 2008).

Cross-sectional research is one of the most popular methods used by social

researchers (Berger, 2004, p 23-25). It allows researchers to examine a test group that

shares certain charcteristics such as educational levels and the test subjest’s socio-

economic standing (Berger, 2004, p 23-25). In the case of this study the test subjects

shared the characterisitc of being seperated from a parent (Jee et al., 2008).

Cross-sectional research is like a “snapshot” of a test groups taken at a point in

time (Pedhazur & Schmelkin, 1991, p 316). In this respect, cross-sectional surveys fall

short of longitudinal surveys in that they do not accurately measure the test subjects as

they progress (Pedhazur & Schmelkin, 1991, p 316).

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According to the results that children frequently experience increased learning

difficulties during the time they were dealing with parental separation. When compared

with children who did not experience parental separation (Jee et al., 2008). It is worth

noting that children who were separated for shorter periods of time still experienced some

difficulties, but the became more pronounced after two months of separation (Jee et al.,



Even though cross-sectional research may appear to be more simple and is used

more often, it does pose difficulties for researchers (Berger, 2004, p 23-25). Results can

be skewed by external and internal factors (Pedhazur & Schmelkin, 1991, p 316). In this

study the PACE surveys were completed by a great deal more women than men (Jee et

al., 2008). 83.5% of the PACE surveys were completed by the mothers of the children

who finished the project (Jee et al., 2008).

The research did not produce information on how the children living with their

father compared to children not experiencing parental separation or the children who

were and living with their mother. There was also a correlation between children

participating in the study who were exposed to violence after the separation. Violent

behavior at home and separation anxiety may have influenced the results and more

children who experienced separation also reported witnessing more violence (Jee et al.,
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2008). That increased exposure to violence may have been the independent variable that

affected the test results as much or more than parental separation.

Another weakness the study authors noted involved lack of knowledge concerning

the pre-test academic abilities of the students (Jee et al., 2008). The study concentrated on

children between 4 and 6 years of age (Jee et al., 2008). This meant that the participants

were beginning their formal educational training (Jee et al., 2008). That left researchers

with no history of academic performance to compare their post-test achievement levels to

(Jee et al., 2008).

How can the test claim validity without a baseline to compare its results too? If

the children who didn’t deal with parental separation had a better economic advantage

and were living in less violent households, as the study suggests, (Jee et al., 2008) then it

makes sense the same group of children may have had better academic training prior to

enrollment in kindergarten. That would give them an unfair advantage at the onset of the

test over the children used a test group to represent subjects dealing with parental


It also makes sense that the additional financial stressors related to poverty could

have a negative impact on a child’s ability to learn. Most of the children in the test group

were living in homes facing “financial challenges” (Jee et al., 2008). More children

dealing with parental separation were also using public welfare resources during the

research than children who did not face parental separation (Jee et al., 2008). How can

children focus on textbook subjects when they are hungry or worried about someone they

love leaving them?

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There was one other thing that did concern me and may have affected the validity

of the test. The first is how the researchers focused in urban areas with large classrooms

that may have been understaffed when compared to classrooms in a rural setting. Most

classrooms in urban areas and the social stressors are very different from children living

in a rural setting.

I would like to have seen this particular research combined to a longitudinal study

that followed the children through their adult years. Would this same group of children be

less likely to go finish high school? Will a majority go to college or jail? Would future

potential mates that are non-violent affect the children’s chances to become a productive

citizen? These are all questions that can only be answered over time.

I personally agree with the results and believe that children who live in a stable

home with two parents have an advantage over children who do not. That is a common

sense finding. The least controversial result and the one I can most readily agree with is

that doctors, parents, teachers and people involved in caring for a child experiencing

parental separation needs to pay special attention to that child. The children experiencing

parental separation are not likely to ask for adult help (Jee et al., 2008). That places a

greater burden on people involved in that child’s life to look for telltale signs of

diminishing self-worth, depression and anxiety related to what they may perceive as an

uncertain future. All of which may affect their academic performance.

Critique of Learning Difficulties Among Children Separated From a Parent 8


Berger, K. S.. (2004) The Developing Person Through the Life Span 6th Ed. Worth

Publishers. Bronx, New York.

Forbes-Jones, E. L. Ph.D.. (2009) “Emma L. Forbes-Jones Ph.D.” University of

Rochester Medical Center. Accessed August 31, 2009, from


J. S. M.D. M.P.H.. (2009) “Jill Suzanne Halterman M.D. M.P.H.”.

University of Rochester Medical Center. Accessed August 31, 2009, from


Jee, S. H. (2009). “Sandra H. Jee M.D. MPH”. University of Rochester Medical Center.

Accessed August 31, 2009, from


Jee, S., Conn, K., Nilsen, W., Szilagyi, M., Forbes-Jones, E., & Halterman, J.. (2008).

“Learning Difficulties Among Children Separated From a Parent”. Ambulatory

Pediatrics, 8(3), 163-8. Retrieved August 31, 2009, from Research Library.

(Document ID: 1571472011).

Nilsen, W.J. Ph.D. (2009). “Bio for Wendy, J. Nilsen, Ph.D..” Wynne Center for Family

Research, University of Rochester Medical Center, Department of Psychiatry.

Accessed August 31, 2009, from
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Pedhazur, E., & Schmelkin, L. (1991). Measurement design and analysis: An integrated

approach. New York: Psychology Press.

Szilagyi, M.. (2009) “Moira Ann Szilagyi Ph.D.”. University of Rochester Medical

Center. Accessed August 31, 2009, from