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.