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How to find us J.D. (Jonathan) Leipoldt, MSc

J.D. Leipoldt, MSc

PhD Candidate

PhD Project: Live a life in Therapeutic Residential Youth Care (TRC): The importance of social climate for the well-being of adolescents in TRC.

Residential Youth Care (RYC) is still considered a “black-box”. We know from previous studies that interventions in these RYC institutions are not always effective. Most studies that focus on treatment effectiveness in residential care only investigate whether the intervention was effective based on measures that are administrated at the start and end of a treatment program. They are thereby missing how and what works in the intervention and miss vital information to increase treatment effectiveness. This project aims to shut more light on the “black-box” by studying the social climate (living environment) in RYC institutions in Norway. Previous research shows that troubled youngsters show an increase in health status and acquire new adaptive skills at the living group level. Surprisingly, very limited studies have looked into the effects of the social climate at the living group level. However, since most effectiveness is gained at the living group level, we need to more about what exactly in this environments works for the diverse population of troubled youngsters in care. This PhD project aims to address this issue by a series of articles that report on factors that are associated with social climate at the institutional level and at the client level. Furthermore, the relation between social climate and well-being and mental health of adolescents in care is further explored. With this project we hope to discover environmental factors that are of importance to make treatment in RYC institutions more effective. The project will be addressed in four articles:

1) Measuring perceived social climate in Norwegian residential youth care institutions. A psychometric evaluation and reduction of the COPES questionnaire in a country-wide representative Norwegian sample.

2) What determines social climate in residential care? A systematic literature review on determinants of social climate in residential youth care settings.

3) Which environment do you enter? Associations between institutional characteristics, client characteristics and the perceived social climate in Norwegian residential youth care institutions.

4) What works for whom in residential care? Associations between institutional characteristics, client characteristics, perceived social climate, well-being and social and behavioural problems in Norwegian residential youth care institutions.

The research design is guided by the integrated model of Moos and Lemke (1994). This model allows us to study how institutional characteristics, client characteristics, and social climate are interrelated. Furthermore, the model enables us to study outcome variables (well-being and mental health) in relation to these characteristics.

Further information
Currently, there is little Norwegian research available on the health status of troubled youngsters in residential youth care institutions. In addition, international studies regarding the effects of the living environment that is most important for youngsters in care are scarce. Adolescents in care spend a lot of time within a shared living environment and previous studies suggest that most treatment results are gained in that area. However, we do not exactly know which environmental features are of importance for the mental health and well-being of adolescents. Furthermore, we do not know how institutional characteristics affect the characteristics of the adolescents and vice versa. It is important to know which social climate is most adaptive for the diverse population of adolescents in care. This is necessary to better establish a “what works for whom principle”.

In this study, 400 adolescents in Norwegian RYC institutions were included. In addition, staff members were included in order to achieve a multi-informant design. Adolescents completed a diagnostic interview, a diverse number of questionnaires (topics include: social climate, mental health, social functioning and social support). Staff members completed comparable questionnaires in order to receive accurate information on the adolescent.

We believe that more research into the relation between social climate, institutional features, and client characteristics will help us to gain new knowledge on what institutions can do to provide our most troubled adolescents with an optimal environment. We hope that an optimal living environment can lead to better health status, reducing risk factors later in life and enable a better quality of life in the adolescents that live their life in residential care.

The project started in April 2015 and is expected to be complete by April 2018. The thesis will be written in English and additional summaries will be provided in Norwegian and Dutch. The public disputation will take place at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands.


  • Two years are funded by RKBU Midt-Norge
  • One year is funded by University of Groningen, Special Needs Education and Youth Care.
  • A cotutelle agreement between NTNU and RUG has been established to enable collaboration between the institutions.
Last modified:07 June 2021 11.30 a.m.

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