Abstract: Child Maltreatment and Offending Behavior: Gender-Specific Main Effect and Mediator Models (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

56P Child Maltreatment and Offending Behavior: Gender-Specific Main Effect and Mediator Models

Friday, January 15, 2010
* noted as presenting author
James Dimitri Topitzes, PhD , University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Assistant Professor, Milwaukee, WI
Joshua P. Mersky, PhD , University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Assistant Professor, Milwaukee, WI
Arthur J. Reynolds, PhD , University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Director, Chicago Longitudinal Study, Minneapolis, MN
Evidence consistently links child maltreatment (CM) to juvenile delinquency, and this association manifests for both males and females albeit to varying degrees. Less is known about the relation between CM and adult offending, although a small number of studies suggest that maltreatment's criminogenic effects extend into adulthood for men and women. It is likely, however, that pathways from CM to offending behavior differ across gender. As such, male and female victims of CM may engage in offending behavior not only in disparate proportions but also through distinct trajectories.

To advance knowledge of the linkage between CM and offending behavior, this study addresses the following research questions. First does CM predict delinquency in males and females? Second, does CM predict adult crime in men and women? Last, what generative mechanisms mediate the maltreatment-crime association within gender subgroups?

Data derive from the Chicago Longitudinal Study (CLS), a panel investigation of 1,539 low-income, minority participants representing a cohort of students who graduated from Chicago Public School kindergarten in 1986. The CLS utilized a quasi-experimental sampling design to evaluate an early school intervention; however, maltreatment groups naturally emerged in this longitudinal dataset. Prospectively administered assessments along with ongoing administrative record searches produced measures spanning childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood (i.e., ages 3-24). Files from the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services along with the Cook County Juvenile Court informed official indicators of CM and juvenile delinquency. County, state, and federal administrative records indicated adult criminal histories. Adolescent mediators were culled from self-, teacher-, and school-reports.

Results from probit regression analyses, incorporating controls for socio-demographic characteristics, revealed that having one or more substantiated CM allegations from ages 0-12 significantly increased the likelihood of any delinquent involvement for males (32% vs. 53%). For females, maltreatment status did not significantly increase delinquency risk. Additional multivariate analyses demonstrated that CM for males was significantly associated with an increased likelihood of having any adult arrest (61% vs. 79%) and any adult conviction (38% vs. 61%). Women in the sample with a substantiated CM history relative to non-maltreated females also had significantly higher rates of any arrest (16% vs. 28%) and any conviction (5% vs. 14%).

Exploratory analyses of the male subsample identified the following mechanisms tying maltreatment to adult criminality: school commitment, socio-emotional development, delinquency and high school graduation. For females, aside from the common protective influence of high school graduation, a different set of adolescent measures only partially mediated the maltreatment-crime association: acting out, parent support, and school/residential mobility. For males but not females, the exploratory mediation models were confirmed via structural equation modeling in LISREL 8.80.

Results suggest that urban-dwelling, low-income boys of color who have been maltreated are at-high risk for juvenile offending but may benefit from treatment interventions aimed at promoting school commitment and socio-emotional development. For girls with similar backgrounds who experience substantiated maltreatment, the tendency to externalize trauma might be ameliorated through residential and school stability along with family support. Alternative interventions might also be necessary to help these females avert criminality.