Abstract: Risk and Protective Factors for Delinquency and Arrest Among Vulnerable Young Adults (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Risk and Protective Factors for Delinquency and Arrest Among Vulnerable Young Adults

Friday, January 14, 2022
Independence BR G, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Chiao-yu Yang, MSW, Research Assistant, State University of New York at Albany, NY
Eunju Lee, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Social Welfare, Albany, NY
Tola Seng, MASW, Doctoral Student, SUNY Albany, Albany, NY
Shaojie Pan, MSW, Doctoral Student, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY
Mijin Choi, PhD, Assistant Professor, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
Background and Purpose: Child welfare-involved youths have been shown to engage in higher delinquent behaviors and face an elevated risk for involvement in the criminal justice system. No population-based study has been conducted on the emerging young adults subjected to child maltreatment investigation in their youth. Studies have shown that risk factors such as substance use disorder are associated with delinquent behaviors. At the same time, protective factors can mitigate adverse outcomes. From a risk and protective perspective, we aim to examine the following questions on young adults in transition: 1) What are the effects of early risk factors on delinquency and arrest in adulthood? 2) To what extent current protective factors prevent young adults from engaging in delinquency and arrest in adulthood?

Methods: We used Wave 1 (baseline) and Wave 3 (a follow-up after 36 months) data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being. The analysis sample includes 334 young adults 18 years or older at Wave 3 interview. Delinquency was initially measured as counts of the range of delinquent acts over the past six months; we converted it into a binary variable given the high prevalence of 0. We used the binary measure of arrest in the last 12 months. We used a substance abuse score and delinquency during adolescent years for early risk factors. Three resources were for current protective factors: stable housing, financial stability, and a high school diploma. Control variables included gender, non-White and Latinx, and out-of-home placement at baseline.

Results: The mean age was 18.74, 62% were women, 47% were non-White, and 25% were Latinx. Almost one out of three young adults experienced out-of-home placement at baseline.

The mean substance abuse score was 1.25 (sd. = 1.8), and 61% reported delinquent behaviors as adolescents. At the 36 months follow-up, more than three quarters had stable housing and were financially stable and already had or expected to receive a high school diploma. Nearly half of the sample reported recent delinquent behaviors, and 12% reported arrests.

The logistic regression model for delinquency as an adult showed a significant positive association with prior substance abuse (OR=1.17) and prior delinquency (OR=2.06), and a significant decrease in odds for delinquency with stable housing (OR=.44), financial stability (OR=.47), and high school education (OR=.53). The model for arrest showed a significant positive association with prior substance abuse (OR=1.3) and prior delinquency (OR=3.57) but no significant association with stable housing, financial stability, and high school education.

Conclusions and Implications: The study results support the risk and protective theory for delinquency and criminal justice involvement. Adolescent delinquent behaviors and substance abuse increase the risk of delinquency and arrest in adulthood. However, resources are only effective in preventing delinquency but not arrest. The study expands our understanding of emerging adult’s trajectory of delinquency and justice system involvement and where the opportunities lay. Early intervention is warranted for child welfare-involved youth exhibiting delinquent behaviors and misusing substances. More efforts are needed to promoting protective resources for this population as they transition into adulthood.