Abstract: Using Open-Ended Survey Responses of Drug and Crime Involved Youth To Explore Transitions to Adulthood (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

13083 Using Open-Ended Survey Responses of Drug and Crime Involved Youth To Explore Transitions to Adulthood

Thursday, January 14, 2010: 2:30 PM
Seacliff D (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Valerie B. Shapiro, MSS , University of Washington, Doctorate Student, Seattle, WA
Eric Waithaka , University of Washington, Doctoral Student Social Welfare, Seattle, WA
Amelia Seraphia Derr, MSW , University of Washington, Doctoral Student, Seattle, WA
Karl G. Hill, PhD , University of Washington, Research Associate Professor, Seattle, WA
J. David Hawkins, PhD , University of Washington, Professor, Director, Seattle, WA
Background and Purpose. In their transition to adulthood, adolescents involved with drugs or crime face the formidable developmental task of adopting adult roles while simultaneously losing most, if not all, public scaffolds and safety nets. Little is known about the subjective experiences of drug and crime involved youths as they transition to adulthood. Most studies on the transition to adulthood have not examined vulnerable populations, and have relied heavily on cross-sectional data and reductionist conceptualizations of marriage, procreation, education, employment, and housing that reify normative patterns of meeting milestones and fulfilling social roles. Aims of this study are to determine (1) how youths involved with drugs or crime characterize themselves throughout their transition to adulthood (ages 21 to 30), and (2) if different themes emerge between groups of young adults that persist in or desist from their drug and crime involvement by age thirty.

Methods Data are drawn from the Seattle Social Development Project (SSDP). We selected youths (n=117) who met criteria for significant drug and/or crime involvement at age 18. We analyzed four prospectively collected waves (ages 21, 24, 27, and 30) of open-ended responses to the prompt, “Tell me in your own words about who you are now. How would you characterize yourself and your life?” To identify salient themes, we employed conventional content analysis methods, reading the transcripts multiple times to achieve immersion and identifying key themes to form coding schemes. We used triangulation across three coders to ensure reliability and maintained the prominence of participant voice by using their own words for the coding scheme.

Results/Implications. As expected, salient themes included partnering, parenting, schooling, and finances/employment. In addition, respondents often spoke about change. Some expressed ways they have “matured”, while others attributed “slips” to job loss, divorce, and low self-regard (i.e. “I just keep screwing up”). Home ownership and independent living were referenced less frequently, but comments on mobility, military service, and incarceration deepened their housing narratives. We used respondents' quantitative responses at age thirty to identify individuals who persist (43%) or desist (57%) drug use and crime involvement. Across the sub-groups were striking differences, specifically in regard to religion, social support, sobriety, and depictions of self. For example, Persisters often spoke of “trying to do better” and planning for a different life in the future, while Desisters were more likely to reference changes they had made and goals they had achieved. Further, Persisters had relatively little mention of any social support, such as friends or primary relationships, while the Desisters directly attributed lifestyle changes to peers. Of particular note was the frequency with which the Desisters attributed their positive changes to religion, drawing importance to the potential of spirituality as a moderator. These analyses yield a richer understanding of this population in their unique developmental contexts, uncover potential change mechanisms, and complicate assumptions sometimes made in social work education, direct practice, and social welfare policies regarding the role of social institutions.