Research That Matters (January 17 - 20, 2008)

Regency Ballroom Wings (Omni Shoreham)

Trauma, Posttraumatic Symptomatology, and Delinquency: a Mediation Model with the National Study of Child and Adolescent Well-Being Data

Michael Killian, MSW, Florida State University and Carl F. Siebert, MBA, MS, Florida State University.

Purpose: In an effort to decrease the prevalence and severity of delinquency, continued effort to better understand the factors contributing to delinquency is critical. The prevalence of prior exposure to traumatic events is well documented in delinquency research, yet little has focused on traumagenic models of delinquency. Understanding the connections between trauma, comorbid symptomatology, and delinquency will help to better predict future behaviors. The purpose of this study is to model the effect of traumatization on delinquent behaviors as mediated by posttraumatic stress symptomatology. This was accomplished by conducting a secondary data analysis of the National Study of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW).

Methods: The NSCAW is the first national probability sample of child abuse cases. This study uses the adolescent sample from the first wave of NSCAW study with 1,179 individuals ranging from age 11 to 15. Adolescents' self-reports of maltreatment and violence in the home, along with parental reports of their community environment and the caseworker's assessment of sexual abuse, were used as measures of adolescents' exposure to traumatic events. Posttraumatic symptomatology includes adolescents' self-reports of depression, posttraumatic stress, and symptoms of internalized disorders. The outcome measure in the model is a self-report of committing delinquent behaviors. Due to the dichotomous outcome variable, mediation was tested using logistic regression models that examined the effects of trauma and posttraumatic stress symptomatology on delinquency, and an OLS regression model to test the effects of trauma on posttraumatic stress symptomatology.

Results: 44.9% of the sample was classified as committing delinquent acts, which was validated using Delinquency subscale of the Youth Self-Report measure. Significant summary variables for maltreatment, community environment, and internalized disorders were identified using exploratory factor analyses and SPSS 14.0 resulting in reliability coefficient values of a=.77, a=.97, and a=.88, respectively. Child maltreatment (OR=1.01, CI95%=1.009, 1.019), moderate exposure (OR=1.126, CI95%=1.069, 1.186), and severe exposure (OR=1.177, CI95%=1.042, 1.328) to violence in the home were significantly associated with delinquency (Nagelkerke R2=.19). Child maltreatment, sexual abuse, and both moderate and severe exposure to violence in the home predicted symptoms of posttraumatic stress (adjusted R2=.13), depression (adjusted R2=.13), and internalized disorders (adjusted R2=.14) in three separate regression analyses. For posttraumatic symptomatology, only adolescents' self-report of depression (OR=1.089, CI95%=1.063, 1.115) significantly predicted delinquent behaviors (Nagelkerke R2=.19). Posttraumatic stress (OR=1.013, CI95%=.985, 1.043) and internalized disorders (OR=.990, CI95%=.982, 1.018) were not found to be associated with committing delinquent behaviors.

Implications: These findings have significant implications for the conceptualization for current models that seek to explain how trauma contributes to delinquent behaviors in adolescents. Surprising, the findings did not support the inclusion of community safety, posttraumatic stress, and internalized disorders as contributing factors. Empirically developed models will help identify better interventions and prevention programs for traumatized adolescents who are at high-risk for developing delinquent behaviors.