Youth’s rights and mental health: The role of supportive relations in care

Eunice Magalhães, Maria Manuela Calheiros, Patrício Costa, Sofia Ferreira - Journal of Social and Personal Relationships


A rights-based approach calls for studies to explore further the extent to which rights’ fulfillment in residential care affects young people’s mental health. A focus on protective factors, such as supportive relations, can inform policies and practices in residential care which is critical for youths’ empowerment and adaptive outcomes. However, existing studies on social support are mainly descriptive and qualitative in nature or focus on the effect of support in mental health. This study builds upon and enhances existing knowledge by exploring the moderating role of social support from educators in residential care and the association between perceived rights and psychological difficulties. A sample of 366 adolescents (53% boys) in residential care (M age = 14.82; SD = 1.81) were included in this study and completed self-reported measures on perceived rights, support in residential care and psychological difficulties. Social support moderated the relationship between the perception of rights regarding respectful system practices, autonomy and contact with family, as well as psychological difficulties. When greater social support was perceived by the adolescents, higher perceptions of respectful system practices and lower perceptions of autonomy and contact with family were associated with lower levels of psychological difficulties. Results provide evidence for the positive role of rights’ fulfillment in psychological functioning in residential care, as well as the protective role of supportive educators.