• The effect of child maltreatment on juvenile delinquency among a cohort of low-income urban males

      Lemmon, John Howe; Crymes, Joseph T. (1996)
      Over the last quarter century there has been a steady increase in child maltreatment and juvenile delinquency. The study explores this relationship by examining how dimensions of maltreatment (presence, type, frequency, and severity) affect dimensions of delinquency (initiation, frequency, chronicity, severity, and age at onset). The study also examines the effect of individual, family life, and agency intervention factors on the initiation of delinquency among maltreated children. Until recently, much of the research concerning the maltreatment-delinquency relationship was equivocal. However, recent studies employing prospective, comparison group designs have produced evidence suggesting that a causal relationship exists. The study improves the comparison group methodology by employing a non-concurrent, prospective, cohort design which identified subjects at risk to both maltreatment and delinquency, but who were not necessarily abused, neglected, or delinquent. Controls were placed on key variables including race, gender, socio-economic status, and geographic location which effectively isolated the maltreatment effect. The selection criteria facilitated a comparison group design that featured and applied these controls to the entire cohort. Six hundred and thirty-two (N = 632) males, born in 1975, living in one of Pennsylvania's ten largest cities, and residing in low-income families were selected from the Office of Income Maintenance and tracked through the state's children and youth and juvenile justice systems. The entire cohort was employed in tests of the initiation of delinquency while those subjects with one or more referrals (N = 352) were used in tests on the continuation of delinquency. Each dimension of maltreatment significantly affected the initiation and continuation of youth crime. Most tests produced observed significance levels at p<.0001 with explained variances as high as nineteen percent. Neglect was found to be a particularly strong indicator of delinquency. Similar patterns were found on all dimensions suggesting that maltreatment produces its strongest effect on the frequency and persistence of delinquency with less or an effect on severity. With the selection criteria designed to identify youths presenting high risk characteristics the significantly higher delinquency scores exhibited by maltreated youths provide compelling evidence of it's effect on delinquency. The findings also indicate that the relationship of race to maltreatment and delinquency is spurious. Among the maltreatment group (N = 267), five characteristics: the presence of an abused sibling, risk taking behaviors, pre-delinquency, school conduct problems, and academic retention, produced a probability of delinquency of over 98%. Children and youth placement slightly reduced the probability suggesting that if certain interventions are provided and high risk characteristics are eliminated, maltreated boys have a better chance of conforming to the law.;The results have disparate implications. On one hand, maltreatment affected the delinquency of low-income, inner city, predominantly minority, adolescent males. On the other hand, the absence of maltreatment affected conformity among the same group. One could reasonably conjecture that the connection between maltreatment and delinquency is caused by the lack of parent-child attachment. If this is so, then programs aimed at building family bonds would reduce delinquency. Neglected boys appear to be a particularly high risk group and should be targeted for delinquency prevention services. However, the state of theory development is crude. Now that a causal connection has been empirically established efforts should be made to test theories that explain the relationship.