Abstract: Juvenile Justice Involvement and Family Factors Among Early Adolescents in Fragile Families (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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39P Juvenile Justice Involvement and Family Factors Among Early Adolescents in Fragile Families

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Zixiaojie Yang, MSW, Ph.D. Student, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Aaron Gottlieb, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Previous research indicates that family structure, family economic insecurity, and parenting are associated with delinquent behaviors among children and adolescents. However, this research has rarely examined the impact of these three types of family factors in the same statistical model and has often relied on point-in-time measures of family factors instead of measures that capture the cumulative effect of family factors throughout childhood. This study fills this gap by examining the cumulative impact of these three types of family factors throughout childhood on adolescent juvenile justice involvement by age 15.

Method: The data were drawn from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS), a population-based survey of urban families. FFCWS followed a cohort of 4,898 children born between 1998 and 2000 in 20 large cities for fifteen years. The dependent variable is whether the youth has experienced juvenile detention by age 15. Family structure related predictors included baseline marital status (married, cohabitation, single), the number of family structure changes, the number of waves the father was absent from the household, and whether the father has ever been incarcerated. Economic predictors included poverty level at baseline (in poverty, < twice the poverty thresholds (PT), < 3xPT, >= 3xPT), and total number of material hardships experienced across waves. Parenting predictors included primary care giver (PCG) supervision at year 9 and parenting-related stress across waves. Two multivariate logistic regression models were estimated. The first regression model explored the factors of interest on the likelihood of youth detention. The second model added a range of control variables, including youth gender and race and mother’s education level, health status, substance abuse, and citizenship status at baseline. Multiple imputation was used to impute values for missing data for all variables except for the DV. The final analytic sample consists of 3,407 youth.

Results: Model 1 indicated more waves of father absence from the household (OR=1.21, P<0.05) and paternal incarceration (OR=1.93, P<0.01) were associated with increased odds of juvenile justice involvement. While lower parenting stress (OR=0.97, P<0.05), families with income up to three times the poverty threshold (OR=0.42, p<0.05), and families with income equal to or more than three times the poverty threshold (OR=0.45, P<0.05) were associated with decreased odds of youth detention. Results from model 2 indicated that the associations described above remain, even after controlling for youth and maternal demographic factors.

Conclusion and Implications: The results highlight the far-reaching impact of family factors in childhood on juvenile justice system involvement in adolescence. Father involvement, economic circumstances, and parenting stress predict youth incarceration. Families experiencing these risk factors should be targeted for early intervention. Interventions that provide financial support may be particularly promising because they may help reduce both financial challenges and the parenting stress that often results from financial hardship. Additionally, policymakers should seek opportunities to reform the juvenile justice system to ensure that youth are treated fairly, regardless of their family background.