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February 2012Vol. 13, No. 1Delinquent Referrals and Maltreatment Histories

The inaugural issue of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's (OJJDP's) Journal of Juvenile Justice features the article "Missouri's Crossover Youth: Examining the Relationship Between Their Maltreatment History and Their Risk of Violence" by Anne Dannerbeck and Jiahui Yan. The study, which used the developmental pathways model, compares delinquent youth with and without a history of maltreatment and examines how risk factors for youth with a maltreatment history differ from other delinquent youth.

In a study of 79,766 youth with delinquency referrals in Missouri's juvenile justice system, roughly 17 percent or 13,609 had a history of maltreatment. The risk factors explored included mental health, social environment, gender, race, and offending history. Delinquent youth with a history of maltreatment had more severe risk factors than youth without that history, and maltreatment increased the odds of future violence.

The authors examined characteristics of this crossover population to understand what leads youth from the child welfare system—where they are treated as victims—to the juvenile justice system—where they are treated as perpetrators. The developmental pathways model assumes that behavior develops in an ordered fashion and understanding the pathway from maltreatment to violent delinquent behavior may help child welfare systems develop better services for at-risk youth.

The study highlights the connection between risk factor accumulation and the likelihood of violent behavior. Children and youth who amass multiple risk factors over time have increased rates of violent delinquent behavior. Trauma either stemming from maltreatment, abuse, neglect, or out-of-home placement often hinders the development of appropriate coping skills and can cause other cognitive impairments such as mental health issues and behavioral problems.

The crossover youth in this study tended to:

  • Become delinquent at an early age
  • Experience inadequate parenting due to parents' mental illness, incarceration, or other factors
  • Lack strong social bonds, support systems, or role models
  • Suffer from mental health issues, including learning disabilities, substance abuse, and others issues

A secondary focus of the study was the association between risk factors and a propensity toward violence. The risk factor overwhelmingly connected with violence was mental health. More than race, gender, or history of maltreatment, a history of juvenile mental health issues and behavior problems significantly increased a youth’s propensity toward violence.

The inaugural issue of Journal of Juvenile Justice also features articles on recidivism in juvenile corrections, juvenile drug courts and the role of drug use associated with criminal behaviors, and more.

The full issue is available on the journal's website: