Methods and Results: We use administrative records from child welfare and juvenile justice in Los Angeles County. Our initial sample includes 27,345 youth between 9 and 16 years of age with at least one substantiated or unsubstantiated allegation in 2002. We use propensity score matching (age, gender, ethnicity, and maltreatment type) to help address selection effects. The matched sample includes 8,733 youth in the substantiated group and 8,733 youth in the unsubstantiated group. The matched sample is approximately 22% African American, 52% Hispanic, and 43% male. On average, children were 12.09 at time of the 2002 allegation. Of the 17,466 adolescents, 821 (4.7%) are associated with at least one juvenile arrest before December 31, 2005. Cox regression indicates that the substantiated cases are more likely to be involved in the juvenile justice system compared to unsubstantiated cases. The relative risk ratio of arrest rate is 1.8 times greater for substantiated maltreatment cases than that for unsubstantiated maltreatment cases. In terms of demographic characteristics, older children and males have greater risk of arrest, consistent with the broader delinquency literature. African American adolescents are also more likely to experience at least one arrest as compared with Hispanic, Asian or white adolescents. Regarding maltreatment type, the relative risk ratio of arrest rate is 1.4 times greater for physical abuse, and 1.3 times greater for neglect as compared with other types of maltreatment. Children removed from the home, regardless of substantiation status, types of maltreatment or individual characteristics, were at increased risk (3.5 times as likely) of juvenile arrest. Moreover, this risk increased as adolescent moved between various substitute care settings.
Conclusions: There is convincing evidence that adolescents with a substantiated allegation of maltreatment are significantly more likely to experience at least one juvenile arrest compared to similar adolescents with only an unsubstantiated allegation of maltreatment. This finding raises important questions about the potential problems associated with eliminating the practice of substantiating allegations of maltreatment in child welfare practice, and the need for integrated services across systems of care. The findings related to race are also important and clearly identify the child welfare system as a significant contributor to disproportionate minority contact (DMC) in juvenile justice settings.