Abstract: One-Size- (Does NOT)-Fit-All: Examining Gender and Racial Equity in Assessments of Youth Who Misuse Substances (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

One-Size- (Does NOT)-Fit-All: Examining Gender and Racial Equity in Assessments of Youth Who Misuse Substances

Friday, January 13, 2023
Cave Creek, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Ashlee Barnes-Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Kaelyn Sanders, B.A., Doctoral Student, Michigan State University
Background: Adolescence is a critical period in lifespan development in which youths’ micro and macro characteristics may lead to engagement in delinquency and other risky behaviors. Substance misuse is a well-documented risk factor for delinquency and recidivism with large numbers of juveniles reporting using drugs/alcohol on a consistent basis. The literature on adolescent substance misuse is replete with studies delineating the risk factors for this vulnerable population, yet fewer studies described the protective factors that can be enhanced to increase judicial programming and substance abuse treatment success. Proper assessment of the unique needs of adjudicated youth that struggle with substance misuse is paramount as research suggests existing correctional frameworks are less effective at reducing their risk of recidivism. Also critically important, are the nuanced experiences of girls and racial/ethnic minority youth who often require treatment/services that address their specific responsivity factors (i.e., unique characteristics) due to their minoritized identities. The study objectives included: (a) examining and comparing the needs, risks, and protective factors of adjudicated youth who struggled with substance misuse and those who did not, (b) examining how gender and race/ethnicity contextualized youth’s risk/needs and protective factors, and (c) investigating whether legal system assessments differentially predicted recidivism across these groups.

Methods: The current study analyzed archival legal assessment data on 543 youth who served probation in a Midwestern juvenile court between 2015 and 2017. Data was collected by probation officers via semi-structed interviews using the Youth Level of Service/Case Management Inventory and Protective Factors for Reducing Juvenile Reoffending. MANOVA, t-test, chi-square, and Receiver Operating Characteristic/Area Under the Curve analyses were implemented to investigate and compare the criminogenic profiles of youth who misused substances (n = 157) and those who did not (n = 386). The predictive validity of the legal assessments was also examined.

Results: Substance-misusing youth were older, male, committed property offenses, had higher risk/need scores, and lower protective scores. Girls reported more academic achievement, help-seeking, and prosocial attitudes. Boys reported more access to resources and positive adult bonds. Racial/ethnic minority youth scored significantly higher on total risk score and demonstrated lower protective factor scores than their white counterparts, however they were more likely to report religiosity as a protective factor. Racial/ethnicity minority youth demonstrated higher judicial treatment needs in the areas of family circumstances, education, and association with delinquent peers. Although the legal system assessments significantly predicted recidivism for youth who did not struggle with substance misuse, they did not predict recidivism for substance-misusing youth.

Conclusions: The local university-court collaboration in which this research was conducted has led to the administration of evidence-based risk/needs and protective factor assessments that have significantly improved juvenile legal system practitioners’ assessment and judicial treatment decisions for adjudicated youth. This research not only underscores the importance of understanding the distinct characteristics of vulnerable subpopulations of adjudicated youth, but also the need to examine whether evidence-based practices promote gender and racial equity. This research has direct implications for the policies and procedures that guide juvenile courts assessment and treatment of vulnerable youth subpopulations.