Abstract: Trauma and Criminal Justice Involvement Among Youth: The Role of Supportive Relationships with Adults (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

2P Trauma and Criminal Justice Involvement Among Youth: The Role of Supportive Relationships with Adults

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Tenesha Littleton, MSW, PhD Student, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background and Purpose: Youth who experience childhood maltreatment are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors. Mental health problems may be a mechanism through which maltreated youth become involved in criminal behavior. Supportive relationships with adults may function as a protective factor that enhances adaptive coping and prevents maltreated youth from becoming involved in criminal behavior. Knowledge of factors associated with involvement in juvenile delinquency may be helpful in designing social work services for maltreated youth. Utilizing structural equation modeling, this study examined the relationship of supportive adult relationships on likelihood of criminal justice involvement and presence of trauma symptoms as well as the presence of trauma symptoms on likelihood of criminal justice involvement among a sample youth experiencing childhood maltreatment.

Method: This secondary analysis of data from the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN) studied 561 youth at wave 18. Trauma symptoms was measured by the Trauma Symptom Inventory and participant t-scores on 5 clinical subscales were used as variables in this study: Anxious Arousal, Depression, Anger/Irritability, Defensive Avoidance, and Tension Reduction Behavior. Supportive relationships with adults was measured by youth responses to the Quality of Parent-Child Relationship questionnaire and the Social Support from Non-parental Adults questionnaire. Youth criminal justice involvement was measured by the following question: “Have you ever been arrested, taken into custody by the police for something they thought you might have done, or charged with a crime for anything other than a minor traffic violation?” Race and gender were also examined.

Results: Nineteen percent of participants had been arrested. About 43% of the sample was male and 57% were female.  Twenty-two percent of participants identified as White, non-Hispanic, 58% identified as Black/African American, and 12% identified as Hispanic. At the bivariate level, males, African American youth, and youth with higher scores on all trauma subscales were more likely to report history of arrest. The final SEM model showed very good fit (x2(57) =55.40, p>.05; RMSEA=0, CFI=1, TLI=1, WRMR=.671). Male youth (OR=1.77, p<.001) and youth who reported higher levels of trauma symptoms (OR=1.04, p<.01) were more likely to report history of criminal justice involvement. Youth who reported greater levels of support from adults endorsed lower levels of trauma symptoms (OR=1.01, p<.01). 

Conclusion and implications: These findings suggest that supportive relationships with adults may assist youth with adaptive coping skills which may improve mental health. Social work interventions with youth should be trauma-informed and include family therapy while also involving other supportive adults throughout the course of the youth’s treatment. Youth experiencing psychological distress should be connected to evidence-based treatment to help them develop positive coping skills and prevent delinquency. Furthermore, because of the overrepresentation of children of color in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, social work interventions should be culturally-competent and be responsive to the needs of vulnerable subgroups. Future research should explore how youth develop trusting relationships with adults particularly after early experiences of maltreatment.