Resilience in youth under investigation for maltreatment exposure : perceptions of support, monitoring and school engagement and the effects on self-reported delinquency
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In national surveys of youth being investigated as potential victims of maltreatment, outcomes suggest that being involved with Child Protective Services (CPS), regardless of the final case determination, can be considered a risk event, changing youth’s life trajectory and increasing the likelihood of negative outcomes as they enter young adulthood. The negative outcomes these youth experience as young adults— increased risk of poverty, higher rates of mental health symptoms, higher rates of domestic violence—have been shown to be risk factors associated with becoming a perpetrator of child maltreatment. Applying a resiliency framework to the issue of maltreatment shifts the focus from psychopathology to positive adaptations despite risk exposure. The building blocks of the resiliency framework are protective mechanisms, variables that can shift a potentially negative life trajectory by promoting positive adaptations in three core areas of competencies: social, academic and conduct. This study was designed to examine the potential protective effects of perceived support by a caregiver, perceived monitoring, and school engagement, using delinquency as a measure of conduct competence. Support by caregiver is defined by qualities such as warmth and security, as well as supporting adolescent autonomy development. Previous research has shown that for most adolescents a positive, supportive relationship with a caregiver serves as a protective mechanism reducing the likelihood of engagement in delinquent acts. Research has shown that adolescents who are actively monitored by adult caregivers are less likely to experience negative outcomes. School engagement has more mixed results depending on the underlying components examined and the population being studied. A latent variable structural equation model (SEM) was developed and tested using a sample of 1054 youth aged 11 to 17 who were involved with Child Protective Services. Participants were drawn from the National Survey for Child and Adolescent Well-Being II (NSCAW-II). The SEM model tested the direct effects of the latent variables of perceived support, perceived monitoring, and school engagement, as measured at baseline, on overall delinquency and on subtypes of delinquency 18 months later. Results of the study suggested that higher levels of perceived support by a caregiver led to reduced reports of subsequent minor offenses. Youth who reported higher levels of monitoring by caregivers at baseline reported higher levels of offenses against persons and minor offenses 18 months later. Conversely, youth who reported higher levels of school engagement at baseline reported significantly lower levels of offenses against people and property and fewer minor offenses 18 months later. Results of this study highlight the important role schools play as a resource for at-risk youth, supporting positive adaptation. The unexpected outcomes associated with monitoring imply how and when monitoring is measured can affect delinquency.