Abstract: Trauma and Maternal Attachment As Risks for Executive Function Deficits Among Youth Who Have Sexually Harmed (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Trauma and Maternal Attachment As Risks for Executive Function Deficits Among Youth Who Have Sexually Harmed

Friday, January 17, 2020
Liberty Ballroom K, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Adam Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor, Hunter College, New York, NY
Jamie Yoder, PhD, Assistant Professor, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
Early adverse relational experiences, when coupled with victimization, may disrupt normative pre-frontal neurological development via executive functioning, and create vulnerabilities for behavioral problems (Perry, Pollard, Blakley, Baker, & Vigilante, 1995). Additionally, there is evidence to suggest traumatic events contribute to insecure attachments styles which subsequently links to sexual violence (Grady, Yoder, & Brown, 2018) and that executive functioning might mediate the relationship between sexual abuse victimization and sexual violence (Yoder, Grady, & Precht, in press). To date, there is a dearth of research examining how traumatic events, PTSD, and insecure attachments collectively link to executive functioning among youth. This study tests associations among these factors and investigates how they contribute to executive functioning in a sample of youth who have sexually harmed.

The current study draws from a sample of male youth who committed sexual crimes (N = 196) from a Midwestern state. Trauma was measured using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Trauma symptoms were measured with the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children. Maternal attachment was measured using the Inventory of Parental and Peer Attachment. Finally, executive functioning was measured using the Behavior Rating Index of Executive Function-Self Report. Data were analyzed in a two-stage process. First, bivariate correlations were run. Second, three successive multiple regression models were run to test three dependent variables of interest related to executive functioning: meta-cognition, behavioral regulation, and the global executive functioning composite. Covariates included trauma symptoms, trauma events, maternal attachment characteristics, age, race, and poverty status.

The results from all three regression models revealed significant equations. The first model regressed behavioral regulation on the independent variables of interest. Youth with higher trauma symptoms were at the greatest risk of behavioral regulation deficits, (F(8, 186)= 2.408, p = .017), R2 = .09. The second model regressed meta-cognition on the independent variables of interest. Youth with higher trauma symptoms and those who reported being very poor were at the greatest risk of meta-cognition deficits (F(8, 186)= 3.78, p < .001), R2 = .140. Finally, the third model regressed global executive functioning on the independent variables of interest. The results revealed that youth with higher trauma symptoms and youth who reported being very poor, were at the greatest risk of global executive functioning deficits (F(8, 186)= 2.971, p = .004), R2 = .113.

We will discuss our interpretations of these results, including our theories as to why trauma symptoms resulting from early developmental adversities can contribute to youths’ deficits in executive functioning. Micro practice implications include the need to focus on executive functioning among youth who have experienced specific types of abuse, particularly for those living in poverty. Policy implications include the need for the justice system to include trauma-informed care and parent training, as well as to consider how addressing macroeconomic issues, such as poverty, might contribute to a reduction in the incidence of sexual harm.