Childhood exposure to domestic and community violence has been linked to the development of PTSD, as well as depression and anxiety, and can negatively impact cognitive development and educational achievement. In addition, experiencing violence as a youth is considered a risk factor for delinquent behavior.
An October 2013 bulletin from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Protection takes a closer look at delinquency and victimization of juveniles, particularly where they overlap. In Children’s Exposure to Violence and the Intersection Between Delinquency and Victimization by Carlos A. Cuevas, David Finkelhor, Anne Shattuck, Heather Turner and Sherry Hamby, data from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence is used to examine the association between the incidence of children’s direct exposure to crime and their reported delinquent activities.
Researchers categorized youth into three main groups, Delinquent-Victim, Primarily Delinquent, and Primarily Victim, based on reported delinquent acts and victimization (experiencing three or more criminal acts) in the past year. Additional within-group classifications allowed for distinctions to be made regarding the types of reported behaviors and victimizations. The key findings are summarized below.
- For boys, the Primarily Delinquent group made up 20.8 percent of the sample, the Delinquent-Victim group made up 18.1 percent and Primarily Victims 17.9 percent.
- For girls, the Primarily Victim group made up 21.2 percent of the sample, the Delinquent-Victim group made up 13.3 percent, and the Primarily Delinquent group 13 percent.
- Among both boys and girls, the Delinquent-Victim group engaged in more delinquency than their male and female peers in the Primarily Delinquent group (boys, 3.9 versus 2.5 activities, girls 3.3 versus 2.0).
- Both male and female Delinquent-Victim groups reported more victimization that their counterparts in the Primarily Victim groups (boys 6.3 versus 4.5 different victimizations, girls 6.4 versus 4.2). Male Delinquent-Victims had a higher percentage in every category of victimization (except bullying) compared to males in the Primarily Victim group. For girls, perhaps the most significant statistic is the high sexual victimization rate among the female Delinquent-Victim group (58%) compared to that of the female Primarily Victim group (27%).
The researchers found patterns in the growth or reduction of each group as children aged, although this study was not longitudinal. Their analysis indicates that male rates of delinquency-victimization peak at ages 13-14, while for females it occurs earlier, at ages 11-12. This suggests interventions at the grade school level may be more successful than those introduced during the teenage years.
For over a decade The Urban Institute has tracked the long term impacts for families relocated by the Chicago Housing Authority to make way for their removal of public housing complexes throughout the city. The relocated residents report better housing and neighborhood quality since the move. For youth however, the improved living environment does not appear to have had a transformative effect on their lives.
According to the brief, Chronic Violence: Beyond the Developments, follow-up data from 2011 indicate that children in the new housing (voucher-enabled private rentals or refurbished public housing) were not attending higher quality schools and were still living in neighborhoods with nearly half of the residents below the poverty line. Parental reports of negative behavior and delinquent activity were similar to the baseline data of youth in the public housing complexes. In addition, academic performance remained a concern, with approximately 33 percent of the teenagers not in the appropriate grade for their age and about 66 percent unengaged in school or work activities.
Authors Chantal Hailey and Megan Gallagher discuss the presence and patterns of neighborhood violence as a continuing factor risk factor in the lives of these families, even after relocation, specifically the impact it has upon youth in the form of continued exposure to trauma, a nomadic lifestyle, and avoidance or isolation. The researchers at The Urban Institute recommend intensive case management services for the relocated families in Chicago, with the hope that such intervention would improve future outcomes.
The impact of neighborhood violence on youth can be devastating, both in perceived and actual threats of physical harm, the psychological toll of anxiety, and the impact of traumatic events on a child’s development. It should be noted that research identified similar problems for youth in “rough” neighborhoods from a sample that included families above the poverty line. Addressing the long-lasting impacts of community violence in a meaningful manner is challenging as both the context of the violence witnessed and gender differences in coping techniques may lessen responsiveness to standardized interventions “proven” in another city. The mixed perception of the outside “experts” (school officials, teachers, social workers, counselors, police, etc.) by community members may also serve as a obstacle in forming a partnership to reduce youth and adult violence. There is not a single policy nor intervention that will be able to neutralize or remove every risk factor, but based on the results of various initiatives across the country, a combination of behavioral interventions and police strategies may prove effective going forward.
A paper presented at the recent 2012 Pediatric Academic Societies Annual Meeting explored the link between the behavior of aggressive teenagers and that demonstrated by their parents. A series of focus groups with middle and high school students found that attitudes and behaviors of parents were highly influential in shaping the violent reaction to conflicts exhibited by their teenage children. Many of the youth involved in physical altercations (fighting) reported that family members had pro-fighting attitudes and (anecdotal) histories of altercations. Fighting teens tended to lack knowledge of, or positive perceptions for, alternative methods of conflict resolution.
This study offers up yet another piece of evidence for the use of family-centered, not merely youth-based, interventions to discuss strategies for coping with stress, addressing conflict, and non-aggressive ways to mediate issues both within the family and with external players.
A study published online in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine offers evidence that the program Communities That Care is successful in preventing drug and alcohol use and other high-risk behaviors among youth. Communities That Care is essentially a prevention strategy developed by researchers at the University of Washington. According to the CTC Facebook page, the approach is described as a “coalition-based prevention operating system that uses a public health approach to prevent youth problem behaviors such as violence, delinquency, school drop out and substance abuse”.
The most recent study tracked students (via surveys) for 5 years (from 5th grade to 10th grade), including a period of time after the external support for the CTC program in their community had been withdrawn. According to a new release from the University of Washington, adolescents in the communities where the program operated:
- were half as likely to have tried cigarettes by the 10th grade;
- had 38 percent lower odds of trying alcohol by grade 10;
- 25 percent lower odds of participating in physical violence; and
- 17 percent lower odds of participating in delinquent behaviors including theft, vandalism and drug sales than their peers in other communities.
A brief summary of the study, Sustained Decreases in Risk Exposure and Youth Problem Behaviors After Installation of the Communities That Care Prevention System in a Randomized Trial by J. David Hawkins, PhD; Sabrina Oesterle, PhD; Eric C. Brown, PhD; Kathryn C. Monahan, PhD; Robert D. Abbott, PhD; Michael W. Arthur, PhD; and Richard F. Catalano, PhD is available at the Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine website. Additional information on this study and comments from the head researcher are included in the news release from the University of Washington.