Family functioning and conduct problems in maltreated adolescents: a gendered analysis
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Although the relationship between childhood maltreatment and adolescent conduct problems is well established, the mechanisms by which maltreatment results in conduct problems are not well understood. Further research is needed to understand the complex development of delinquent and disruptive behavior in maltreated youth, specifically as it pertains to girls. Based on a review of the literature, it appears critical to understand the ways in which family functioning is impeded by abuse and neglect and how this relational trauma may predict internalizing disorders and conduct problems in adolescents. The purpose of the current study was to test a model predicting the development of conduct problems in adolescence that included maltreatment, dysfunctional family processes and internalizing symptoms as contributing variables, and to explore gender differences in the relationships among variables. A latent variable structural equation model (SEM) was developed and tested in a sample of 315 adolescents aged 13 to 18 who participated in a comprehensive psychological evaluation at a residential treatment facility. The SEM model evaluated the direct and indirect effects of child maltreatment, dysfunctional family processes, and internalizing problems on conduct problems. The model was evaluated across gender groups to measure whether dysfunctional family functioning was a stronger predictor of internalizing or conduct problems in females as compared to males. Results of the study indicated a direct effect of self-reported childhood maltreatment and dysfunctional family processes on internalizing problems but only dysfunctional family processes had a significant direct effect on conduct problems. Maltreatment had a significant indirect impact on conduct problems via dysfunctional family processes; such that maltreatment lead to greater dysfunctional family processes which in turn lead to more severe conduct problems. Analyses by gender demonstrated that the relationship between dysfunctional family processes and internalizing problems was equivalent for both males and females, and the relationship between dysfunctional family processes and conduct problems was statistically significant only for males. The results of this study support further exploration of the gender-specific mechanisms by which maltreatment leads to conduct problems. Results suggest that practitioners should focus on family functioning in the prevention and intervention of conduct problems in maltreated adolescents.