Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

17063 Beyond School Bonding: Comparing the Schooling Experiences Between Juvenile Sexual Abusers and Nonsexual Abusers

Thursday, January 12, 2012: 2:30 PM
Arlington (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Kevin Tan, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Adam Brown, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
David L. Burton, PhD, Associate Professor, Smith College, Northampton, MA
Purpose: The purpose of this study is to identify school-based predictors of delinquency among juvenile sexual offenders and general delinquents. Schools play an important role in reducing problem behaviors among young people (Eklund & Klinteberg, 2006) and as hypothesized by social control theorists (Hirschi, 1969), a more positive schooling experience can directly reduce the risk of deviant behaviors. However, there is a dearth of research investigating factors associated with schooling experiences of juvenile sex offenders (the focus is often on behaviors other than sexual crimes). Juvenile sex offenders differ from non-sex offenders across a variety of individual, familial and environmental domains (van Wijk et al., 2006). Given this heterogeneity, a comparative study of the schooling experiences between juvenile sex offenders and delinquent youth is warranted. In this study, three significant aspects of a young person's schooling experiences are examined: school bonding, educational difficulties and communication difficulties.

Methods:Participants are incarcerated male juveniles ages 12 to 20 (n=502) that were recruited from six residential facilities in a Midwestern state, of which 332 were adjudicated for sexual offenses and 170 for nonsexual crimes. After consents were obtained, the surveys were administered in a small (8-12) group format in classrooms. Delinquent behaviors were assessed using Elliot, Huizinga and Ageton's (1985) Self-Reported Delinquency (SRD) scale which measured behaviors such as drug use and aggression. School bonding was measured by asking respondents the degree to which they liked school during their elementary and secondary school years in the time leading up to their incarcerations. Educational difficulties were based on five questions that accessed problems in reading, writing and math. The variable for communication difficulties was constructed from six questions that examined struggles in understanding and communicating thoughts and feelings. In order to understand how school bonding, educational difficulties and communication difficulties relate to delinquency, both within and between sex and non-sex offenders, three Structural Equation Models (SEM) with similar underlying premises were tested: a model for the overall sample, a model for juvenile sex offenders and another model for non-sex offenders. All three SEMs reported satisfactory model-fit statistics.

Results: In all three models, communicative difficulties and academic difficulties were significantly correlated (p ≤ 0.001). School bonding was negatively associated with delinquent behaviors across the models and is noted to have the largest effect in reducing delinquency among non-sex offenders (p ≤ 0.05). Difficulties in communication were found to be positively associated with delinquent behaviors for non-sex offenders only. The model for juvenile sex offenders does not statistically support a pathway between communication difficulties and delinquent behaviors.

Implications: There are important points for intervention and future research from our study. Our findings concur with previous literature on the protective function of school bonding against delinquency, including sexual crimes. Additionally, given that deficits in communication were not found to be predictive of delinquency among juvenile sex offenders, but were in non-sex offenders, further research is needed to understand how problems in communication might relate to juvenile criminal behaviors.

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