Abstract: Examining Personal and Relational Buffers of Childhood Adversity to Address Problem Behaviors Among Probation Youth (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Examining Personal and Relational Buffers of Childhood Adversity to Address Problem Behaviors Among Probation Youth

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Patricia Logan-Greene, PhD, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Asia Bishop, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Paula Nurius, PhD, Professor, University of Washington, WA
B. K. Elizabeth Kim, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Problem behaviors during adolescence have been shown to increase risk for negative adult outcomes, including illegal behaviors, health risks, and diminished employment and educational attainment. Poor emotional regulation is a key contributor to problem behaviors, particularly aggression and antisocial attitudes. The skills needed to self-regulate begin to form early childhood and depend on the quality of caregiving (Roberton et al., 2012). Poor parenting, including child maltreatment, compromises a youth’s ability to self-regulate, both by failing to teach necessary skills and damaging key physiological processes at play during times of distress. However, self-regulation skills are malleable, and are thus potentially important targets for interventions to prevent trajectories of delinquency and to promote healthy development (Kinniburgh et al., 2017).

This study extends this literature by 1) examining the relationship between childhood adversity and aggression as well as antisocial attitudes, and 2) testing for buffering effects of self-regulation skills and quality parenting among a sample of probation youth. Though less frequently studied than youth in detention, youth on probation are a much larger population and appropriate for early intervention to prevent negative sequelae.

Methods: Data come from administrative records of a juvenile court in the Northwest. A diverse sample (N=5,378) of probation youth were identified as moderate- and high-risk to reoffend from a validated psychosocial assessment. Aggression and antisocial attitudes were examined through multivariate regression analyses based on: demographics (age, race/ethnicity, gender), adverse childhood experiences (childhood victimization, family dysfunction, and social disadvantage), antisocial peers, self-regulation skills (impulse control, future orientation, emotional regulation), and relationships with adults (positive parenting, close relationships). Interaction terms were used to test whether self-regulation skills and relationships with adults significantly moderated the effects of adversity.

Results: Childhood victimization was the primary dimension of adversity accounting for aggression and antisocial attitudes, net other factors. After controlling for antisocial peers and other risks, all protective factors (relationships and self-regulation factors) had significant explanatory effects on both aggression and antisocial attitudes. Tests of moderation between victimization and both self-regulation and relationships with adults were also significant, with higher levels of these factors acting as buffers of childhood victimization. Though Black and Latinx youth are disproportionately represented in juvenile legal systems, these variables were not significant in these multivariate models, emphasizing that social disparities may account for those differences.

Conclusions: Youth involved within the legal system frequently have diminished resources (Loeber & Farrington, 2012). Our discussion elaborates how bolstering self-regulatory skills and positive adult relationships can improve both antisocial attitudes and aggression, which, in turn, could decrease the risks of future negative sequelae including criminality. Findings hold important implications for secondary prevention of delinquency and promoting healthy development. Professionals who work with youth on probation, or in other contexts (schools or family-based services) with marginalized and at-risk youth, should consider approaches that build protective skills (e.g., self-regulation) and increase positive relationships in order to improve outcomes. Improving these factors for marginalized youth can help reduce social disparities that are compounded by involvement in juvenile legal systems.