Abstract: The Mediating Effect of School Engagement in the Relationship between Child Maltreatment and Juvenile Delinquency (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12658 The Mediating Effect of School Engagement in the Relationship between Child Maltreatment and Juvenile Delinquency

Thursday, January 14, 2010: 1:30 PM
Pacific Concourse M (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Kimberly A. Bender, PhD , University of Denver, Assistant Professor, Denver, CO
Jeffrey M. Jenson, PhD , University of Denver, Professor, Denver, CO
Sanna Thompson, PhD , University of Texas at Austin, Associate Professor, Austin, TX
Ariana W. Postlethwait, PhD , University of Kansas, Assistant Professor, Lawrence, KS
David W. Springer, PhD , University of Texas at Austin, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and University Distinguished Teaching Professor, Austin, TX
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Prior studies indicate that childhood maltreatment places youth at increased risk for delinquent conduct during adolescence. Maltreated youth initiate delinquent behaviors earlier and are more likely to become violent offenders than non-maltreated youth. Unfortunately, little is known about the processes by which victimized children become involved in delinquent behavior. For example, results from prior investigations suggest that maltreated youth evidence lower levels of academic performance relative to other young people, and their academic performance predicts problem behavior. However, specific school-related processes that may help practitioners understand pathways from maltreatment to delinquency are seldom investigated. School engagement, an indicator of a young person's commitment and attachment to her/his school environment, is one such neglected process. In this study we tested the influence of school engagement as a mediating factor in the relationship between child maltreatment and subsequent delinquency. Study results are used to inform existing prevention and treatment strategies aimed at interrupting the pathway from maltreatment to delinquent behavior.

METHODS: A national sample of youth involved in the child welfare system (N=1179) was used to test the mediating effect of school engagement on maltreatment and delinquency. Data were derived from personal interviews with young people (ages 11 to 18) and caseworkers who participated in the National Survey on Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW). The racial breakdown of participants was 45% White, 30% Black, 15% Hispanic, and 10% other. Measures included youths' self-reported school engagement, delinquency, and background variables as well as case workers' ratings of severity of maltreatment risk. Latent growth curve modeling was used to assess the mediating effect of school disengagement in the relationship between child maltreatment and delinquency.

RESULTS: Model fit was good (χ2=41.3; p=.250). Bootstrap analyses (.003 to .036; p<.05) indicated that maltreatment had a significant indirect effect on delinquency through school engagement (b=.018; SE=.010). Specifically, youth who experienced more severe maltreatment reported significantly lower levels of school engagement which in turn was associated with increased delinquent behavior. Although only a partial mediator, the inclusion of school engagement in the analytical model reduced the effect of maltreatment on delinquency by 21%. Relative to other effects, the direct effect of school engagement on delinquency (B=.37, p<.05) was large, highlighting youths' lack of commitment to school is an important risk factor for delinquent behavior.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: Findings indicate that school engagement is an important factor linking maltreatment and delinquency. These results suggest that teachers and practitioners in school and correctional settings should implement strategies that promote young people's interest and commitment to school. Potential school engagement strategies include involving youth in school-based extracurricular activities, one-on-one adult mentoring, and academic tutoring. Social and emotional learning programs that promote behavioral and cognitive skills and increase the strength of social bonds among youth, teachers, parents, and positive peers should also be implemented as a means of increasing engagement. Finally, structured conferences and goal-setting between youth, teachers, and child welfare and juvenile justice staff may also create relationships that are conducive to increasing levels of school engagement.