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Convergent validity assessment of a brief screen for poverty with South African adolescents.

The Developmental Trauma Inventory (DTI; Collings, Valjee, & Penning, 2013) is a 36-item self-administered screen for interpersonal developmental trauma developed specifically for use in the South African context. Preliminary work with the DTI indicates that the inventory probes nine distinct factors, comprising emotional abuse, community assault, domestic assault, witnessing domestic violence, witnessing community violence, indecent assault, rape, domestic neglect, and intentional domestic injury. These nine domains have been found to be characterized by adequate internal consistency ([alpha] = .70-.81) and acceptable levels of concurrent criterion-related validity in the sense that domain scores were found by Collings et al. (2013) to be positively associated with scores on validated measures of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/ or complex PTSD.

In addition to probes for traumatic exposure, the DTI contains--for both theoretical and empirical reasons--a three-item screen for poverty, "Our family was so poor that sometimes we did not have enough food to eat," "My parents could not afford to send me to the doctor when I was sick," and "My parents did not earn enough money to support a family." At the theoretical level, a number of authors have argued that poverty is most usefully conceptualized as a form of structural or systemic trauma that should be considered as part of a complete profile of an individual's victimization (Kira, Lewandowski, Chiodo, & Ibrahim, 2014). From a bidirectional trauma framework perspective (Kira, 2001; Kira et al., 2014), extreme poverty can be viewed as a form of structural trauma that can limit the individual's chances of "survival, development, and advancement" (Kira et al., 2014, p. 392) and can lead to negative mental health outcomes, including PTSD.

Researchers have provided empirical support for the traumatogenic potential of poverty, stating that being poor is associated not only with an increased risk of exposure to developmental trauma (Collings, 2012; Dhami, Hoglund, Leadbeater, & Boone, 2005; Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, & Hamby, 2005; Turner, Finkelhor, & Ormrod, 2006) but also with secondary victimization in the aftermath of traumatic exposure (Collings, 2009), and with negative mental health outcomes, including PTSD, at a later stage (Collings et al., 2013; Kira et al., 2014; Klest, 2012; Lieberman, Chu, Van Horn, & Harris, 2011; Nikulina, Widom, & Czaja, 2011; Rockers, Kruk, Saydee, Varpilah, & Galea, 2010). Moreover, poverty is likely to have particular salience in a South African context, which is characterized by both high levels of interpersonal violence (Seedat, Nyamai, Njenga, Vythilingum, & Stein, 2004) and an estimated 53% of the population living in poverty, with the 66% poverty rate for children being markedly higher than the rate of 45% for adults (Statistics South Africa, 2008).

Taken together, these findings provide a clear rationale for the inclusion of a poverty screen in measures of exposure to developmental trauma. However, although the DTI poverty screen has been found to have adequate levels of internal validity ([alpha] = .72) and acceptable levels of concurrent validity (Collings et al., 2013), to date there has been no systematic exploration of the convergent validity of the poverty measure. To address this omission, we compared scores on the DTI poverty screen with scores obtained on a composite measure of socioeconomic status (SES) that has been validated for use with a South African sample. We predicted that scores on the DTI poverty screen would be significantly associated with scores on the composite measure of SES.



The target sample for the study was all students attending a high school in Durban, South Africa in 2012 (N = 534). Students were approached during life orientation lessons and asked if they would be willing to participate in the study. From this group 462 (86.5%) of the students agreed to take part in the study and all returned usable survey forms. Respondents were predominantly female (65%) and black African (81%), with a mean age of 16.1 years (range = 13-19 years). There were approximately 90 participants per grade level (8-12). An analysis of school registration records indicated that the sample did not differ significantly from nonparticipants in terms of gender, grade, age, or race.

Participants in the pretest phase of the research (N = 50) comprised the first 10 students in each grade who volunteered to take part in the study.


The structured survey contained standard demographic information (age, gender, race, grade level) as well as items from the DTI poverty screen. In the sample, Cronbach's alpha for the poverty screen was .71.

Participants also completed the Household Economic and Social Status Index (HESSI; Barbarin & Khomo, 1997), which has been found to yield two factors, that is, financial/social capital (educational and occupational status of parents, financial assets, food security) and consumption (utilities, consumer goods, quality of housing). A total SES score is computed by summing subscale scores. The stability of the HESSI factors has been established using confirmatory factor analysis (Barbarin & Khomo, 1997), with support for the concurrent validity of total SES scores provided by the fact that these scores were found by Barbarin and Khomo to be both significantly predictive of a family's ability to meet basic needs and significantly associated with a family's experience of material hardship.


Pretesting of the survey indicated that it took approximately 10 minutes to complete. Feedback from participants indicated that all items should be retained, although some minor changes in wording were required in order to ensure that the item content was unambiguous and clearly understood. Once necessary changes had been made, whole classes of participants filled in the survey during life orientation lessons.

In order to control for order effects, half of the participants completed the DTI poverty screen items first, followed by HESSI items, and the other half completed the two measures in the opposite order.

Ethical clearance for the research was obtained from the Humanities and Social Science Research Ethics Committee at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2011. We provided each participant with a study information sheet containing confirmation that their participation was voluntary and that all information provided would be treated in the strictest of confidence. We also obtained consent from the parents of all the students who took part in the study. We provided participants with contact information for the research team, and encouraged them to make contact if they had any questions relating to their participation in the research, with offers of free counseling by a school counselor or free psychotherapy at a university clinic being made to all participants.


Preliminary analyses indicated that the order in which measures of SES were presented to participants did not influence either scores for each of the measures or the correlation between scores on the two measures. Scores for the two versions of the survey were, therefore, combined for the purposes of further analysis.

Subsequent zero-order correlations, which were based on all completed surveys, indicated that DTI poverty screen scores were significantly associated with HESSI scores, financial/social capital, r(460) = -.65, p < .001; material consumption, r(460) = -.65, p < .001; and SES, r(460) = -.71, p < .001.


The study findings provide support for the convergent validity of the DTI poverty screen. Moreover, when combined with data from a previous validation study (Collings et al., 2013), the results indicate that the poverty screen provides an efficient, reliable, and valid estimate of participants' SES.

At a broader level, the study findings indicate that it is feasible to develop a brief screen for developmental trauma that provides reliable and valid estimates of exposure to both individual and systemic trauma. The form of systemic trauma examined in the present study (i.e., poverty) is likely to have particular relevance to developing countries, such as South Africa, but other forms of systemic trauma (e.g., discrimination based on race, caste, gender, and sexual orientation) have also been found to be associated with traumatogenic dynamics and outcomes (Friedman et al., 2011; Kira, Ashby, Lewandowski, Smith, & Odenat, 2012; Roberts, Austin, Corliss, Vandermorris, & Koenen, 2010); therefore, these other forms need to be considered in future developments of the DTI.

A limitation of the study is that our findings were obtained using a relatively small sample of adolescents attending one high school in an urban area. As such, further research is recommended in order to establish the extent to which the present findings might be generalized to larger and more representative samples of South African adolescents.

Sachet R. Valjee and Steven J. Collings

University of KwaZulu-Natal

Sachet R. Valjee and Steven J. Collings, School of Applied Human Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal.

This work is based upon research supported by the South African National Research Foundation. Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and, therefore, the National Research Foundation does not accept any liability in regard thereto.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Steven J. Collings, School of Applied Human Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4041, Republic of South Africa. Email:


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Author:Valjee, Sachet R.; Collings, Steven J.
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Date:Jun 1, 2015
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