The Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale (Cafas): A Dynamic Predictor of Juvenile Recidiwism

Article excerpt


This study tested the degree to which the Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale (CAFAS; Hodges & Wong, 1996), a mental health assessment tool, predicted recidivism among juvenile offenders. The CAFAS, which is sensitive to rehabilitation treatment effects, was compared with factors insensitive to rehabilitation (e.g., age, ethnicity, sex, and number of prior offenses). Also addressed was the methodological issue of whether to treat recidivism as a continuous or a dichotomous variable. The CAFAS was found to be significantly related to recidivism. The practical application of the results, as well as the value of emphasizing research on dynamic predictors that enable policy makers to target at-risk juveniles, is discussed.

Recidivism research has been used differently in adult and juvenile justice populations. In adult populations, it has primarily been employed by correctional policy makers (who attempt to balance the demands of allocating limited financial resources and maintaining public safety) to create probation/parole guidelines based on determinations of which individuals are at risk for future offenses (Gendreau, Goggin, & Paparozzi, 1996). On the other hand, juvenile justice policy makers have used recidivism as a means of evaluating rehabilitation programs (Piper & Warner, 1980/81). Thus, in adult populations, policy makers focus on individuals' recidivism, while in juvenile populations they focus on program recidivism.

It was hypothesized that a focus on individuals' recidivism would be advantageous for juvenile justice policy makers. Consequently, the Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale (CAFAS; Hodges & Wong, 1996), a mental health assessment tool, was empirically tested in the present study to determine the degree to which it predicted recidivism in a sample of juvenile offenders.

Consistent with previous research on adult recidivism, a distinction was made between stable and dynamic predictors (for a review, see Andrews & Bonta, 1994). Stable predictors, such as age, sex, and ethnicity, are insensitive to rehabilitation treatment effects. In contrast, dynamic factors, such as those represented by CAFAS scores, are sensitive to treatment effects.


In 1967, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended that the juvenile justice system practice judicious nonintervention and avoid the incarceration of children and adolescents. The commission endorsed decriminalization, diversion, due process, and deinstitutionalization (Empey, 1967). As a result, the juvenile justice system has emphasized rehabilitation, not retribution, requital, or punishment (Bartol & Bartol, 1994).

Because of this emphasis, juvenile justice policy makers are interested in knowing which rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism. Previous research on juvenile recidivism has reflected this interest. For example, starting in the 1950s and 1960s, group homes were introduced for rehabilitating juvenile offenders (see McCorkle, Elias, & Bixhy, 1958; Sommers, 1963), and early evaluations of these group home programs used recidivism to determine their effectiveness.

However, these early studies had discouraging findings. It was concluded that group home rehabilitation did not reduce recidivism (Martinson, 1974; Romig, 1978), and that "recidivism should not be used as the sole criterion for measuring program success" (p. 4, Piper & Warner, 1980/81). These results have been attributed to a number of experimental limitations. For example, it has been argued that court and police records are not objective concerning which delinquent acts are recorded, but are biased based on the juveniles' ethnicity, age, sex, socioeconomic status, and physical size (Elliott & Voss, 1974). Further, researchers studying recidivism do not have a standard format for coding these data (Piper & Warner, 1980/81). …