Abstract: Considerations for Treatment of Juvenile Justice System Involved Girls: The Role of Intimate Relationships (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

12665 Considerations for Treatment of Juvenile Justice System Involved Girls: The Role of Intimate Relationships

Thursday, January 14, 2010: 2:30 PM
Pacific Concourse M (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Juliette N. Graziano , Florida International University, PhD Student, Miami, FL
Michelle Hospital, PhD , Florida International University, Research Associate, Miami, FL
BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Research has consistently shown that girls in the juvenile justice system have experienced extremely high rates of abuse (Abram et al., 2004; Acoca & Dedel, 1998). While child abuse is a well-established risk factor for delinquency, the underlying mechanisms that explain its relationship to delinquency have been understudied. It is theorized that relationships play a central role in girls' lives and relational concerns have a greater influence on their offending behaviors (Bloom et al., 2005). Research has begun to explore the interconnectedness among childhood abuse, unsafe intimate relationships, and delinquency. Having an older partner in particular is a risk factor associated with dating violence (Buzy et al., 2004; Rickert et al., 2004). Belknap and Holsinger (2006) found that juvenile offending girls were significantly more likely than boys to have older romantic partners, with relationships with older partners a gendered pathway for girls' delinquency. The current research examines the relationships among (a) child abuse, (b) having an older romantic partner, (c) feeling threatened emotionally or physically in the relationship, and (d) delinquency.

METHODS: The sample includes 542 justice-system involved girls from six juvenile justice programs in four states. The sample is racially/ethnically diverse (38% African American, 34% White, 14% Native American, 12% Hispanic and 2% Asian). Structural equation modeling (SEM: AMOS 7.0) was utilized to evaluate the proposed model, which examined the relationships among delinquency (as measured by # of criminal arrests), reported history of child abuse, having a significantly older partner, and feeling threatened in intimate relationships (both physically and emotionally).

RESULTS: The proposed model was statistically over-identified. Model fit indices indicated a good overall fitting model with no sources of ill fit. Examination of the statistically significant path coefficients revealed that criminal arrest is influenced directly by a history of child abuse, involvement with an older partner and feeling physically threatened in intimate relationship. Feeling physically threatened also partially mediated the relationship between criminal arrest and involvement with an older partner. Additionally, the probability of getting involved with an older partner was statistically significantly influenced by a history of child abuse.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS: The current study's findings address recent calls for a better understanding of gender differences in delinquent behavior (Bloom et al., 2005). Specifically, these results expand the existing literature on the relationship between abuse and delinquency among girls, by revealing the importance of involvement with an older partner and feeling unsafe in intimate relationships. The present study's findings have far reaching implications for research and treatment programs focused on reducing delinquency in adolescent girls. These results suggest that intervention programs need to focus on the influence of intimate (older) partners and their impact on girls' safety, which in turn affects their delinquent behavior.