Using a sample of economically disadvantaged and majority-Black adolescents, many studies have demonstrated the significant consequences of child maltreatment. Little is known, however, about the links between child maltreatment and peer relationships among this population—even though adolescence is a period that increases the importance of peer relationships by expanding their socializing process from family to peer groups. Additionally, this scarce research has used diverse concepts of peer relationships (i.e., peer dynamics, peer popularity, and peer characteristics) separately, although peer relationships are multidimensional and it is hard to understand their complexity by relying solely on any one of these components. To address these limitations, this study aims 1) to identify underlying heterogeneous patterns of peer relationships; 2) to investigate whether the patterns of peer relationships differ by type of child maltreatment (i.e., physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect, as well as co-occurrence of maltreatment); and 3) to examine the association between peer relationship patterns and adolescent risk behaviors (i.e., substance use and sexual risk behaviors).
The data derive from Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN), which investigates the consequences of child maltreatment. The sample includes 659 adolescents, primarily Black (56.8%) and low income (60.6% of sample reported less than $15,000 annual household income). Peer relationships were assessed at age 14 using self-reported peer dynamics (e.g., peer rejection, being ignored), teacher-reported peer popularity, and self-reported peer characteristics (e.g., peer groups’ antisocial behaviors). Child maltreatment was measured at age 12 using the self-reports of lifetime maltreatment experiences. Adolescent risk behaviors were assessed at age 16 using self-reported substance use and sexual risk behaviors. Child race, gender, household income, and study site were used as covariates. To examine the three research questions, a series of analyses were performed using Mplus 7.11: latent class analysis, multinomial logistic regression analysis, and multiple logistic regression analyses.
Fit indices (i.e., entropy, AIC, BIC, adjusted BIC, VLMR and BLRT) indicated a four-class solution as the optimal model: 1) friendly, with prosocial peer groups (10.2%); 2) socially ignored, with prosocial peer groups (55.2%); 3) severely antisocial peer groups (6.8%); and 4) moderately antisocial peer groups (27.8%). Multinomial logistic regression analysis found that emotionally abused youth, among all types of child abuse, were more likely to be involved in severely antisocial peer groups, compared to other patterns of peer relationships. Additionally, multiple logistic regression analyses indicated that youth in the severely antisocial peer groups were more likely to use substances and to engage in sexual risk behaviors during adolescence.
Conclusion and implications:
This study helps to expand our knowledge of the heterogeneous patterns of peer relationships within the context of child maltreatment. These findings highlight the need for deeper understanding of the role peer characteristics play in adolescent risk behaviors among economically deprived and minority adolescents. Furthermore, they underscore the importance of accounting for the impact of emotional abuse on the likelihood of membership in severely antisocial peer groups.