Abstract: Victimization and Suspension/Expulsion in Adolescence: Exploring Pathways through Fighting and Head Injury (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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64P Victimization and Suspension/Expulsion in Adolescence: Exploring Pathways through Fighting and Head Injury

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Jeremiah Jaggers, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Alysse Loomis, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Melanie Sonsteng-Person, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Philip Osteen, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Utah, UT
Background & Purpose

Research links violence exposure to suspension and expulsion, however the pathways for this relationship are unclear. One may be through fighting as fighting is a significant outcome of violence exposure and can increase suspension and expulsion. Another potential, and unexplored pathway, is through traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBIs are a significant outcome of violent victimization and can impact cognitive abilities and future violence. This study examines the relationship between violent victimization and suspension/expulsion outcomes through pathways of head injury and fighting. It was hypothesized that youth with greater victimization would have higher rates of suspension/expulsion, which would be mediated by fighting and TBI.


Data came from the baseline wave of the Pathways to Desistence Study, a multi-site, longitudinal study of serious adolescent offenders age 14 to 18. The sample for the study consisted of males who also had witnessed violence (n=1,094). Participants were mostly African American (n=480, 43.9%) with a mean age of 16.07 (1.35) years.

Frequency of violent victimization (M=1.73, SD=2.14), frequency of fighting, TBI (yes=369, 32.9%), number of suspensions (adjusted M=13.13; SD=19.31) and expulsions (adjusted M=0.65; SD=0.99) were all included in the model. Race/ethnicity and age were used as covariates.

Separate structural equation models were developed using Mplus to assess the mediating effects of fighting and TBI on the relationship between victimization and suspension (Model A) and expulsion (Model B). Weighted least-squares estimation was used due to the presence of a categorical endogenous variable.


Model fit for both models suggest a good match between the hypothesized model and the covariance matrix. In Model A, positive relationship between victimization and expulsions was noted (b=0.11. 95%CI:.07-.16, p<.001). Similar results were obtained for TBI (b=0.08, 95%CI:.001,.16, p=.04) and fighting (b=0.09, 95%CI:.06-.16, p<.001). Increased victimization was associated with higher probability of a TBI (b=0.19, 95%CI: .13-.24, p<.001) and more fighting (b=0.22, 95%CI: .13-.31, p<.001).

In Model B, statistically significant direct effects were detected between victimization and number of suspensions (b=1.59, 95%CI:.78-2.41, p<.001), victimization and fighting (b=.22, 95%CI:.13-.31, p<.001), and between fighting and suspensions (b=1.69, 95%CI: 83-2.55, p<.001). African American students had significantly more suspensions compared to their non-Black peers (b=.14, 95%CI: .03-.25, p<.001).

Conclusions & Implications

This is the first study to examine violent victimization, head injury, and school discipline among adolescents. Findings inform several important practice and policy implications. First, school-based interventions that address the impacts of violence exposure and promote alternate responses to conflict may be beneficial at reducing rates of discipline. Second, it is necessary to explicitly target race disparities in discipline that lead to disparate rates of students of color who experience exclusion. Finally, this study has implications for screening and treating head injuries related to violence exposure. Failing to screen and identify youth with TBIs as a result of violent victimization means that a number of students at risk of discipline may be currently not receiving services. School social workers can use these findings to develop and evaluate effective screening and interventions following violent victimization.