Maternal and Adolescent Ratings of Psychopathology in Young Offender and Non-Clinical Males

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Abstract

Recent research has started to examine the effect of clinical status on the correspondence between maternal and adolescent ratings of emotional and behavioural problems. This study compared maternal and youth ratings of the youths' adjustment using the Child Behaviour Checklist and Youth Self-Report in young offender (n = 50) and non-clinical males (n = 51) 12-16 years of age. In the young offender group, significant differences were found between maternal and youth ratings on all Internalizing and Externalizing scales. While delinquent youths' reports were in the clinical range only on the delinquent behaviour subscale, maternal ratings were in the clinical range on most subscales. By contrast, maternal and youth reports in the control group showed comparable ratings on Internalizing scales, with normal adolescents endorsing significantly more Externalizing behaviour problems than their mothers. Maternal and youth ratings in the controls were in the normal range on all scales. Several hypotheses to explain the differences between young offenders' and their mother's reporting of symptoms are presented. The implications of these findings for forensic assessment of adolescents are discussed.

In assessing the nature and degree of child and adolescent psychopathology, clinicians frequently rely upon parent and youth reports of symptoms and behaviour. However, a growing body of cross-informant research suggests that a complex relationship exists between parent and child data. Many studies have demonstrated that agreement among parents and their offspring is modest (Achenbach, McConaughy, & Howell, 1987), and researchers have begun to elucidate a number of individual, familial and environmental variables that influence cross-informant agreement. For example, the Achenbach et al. (1987) meta-analytic review found better agreement for externalizing behaviours such as aggression and delinquency than for internalizing behaviours, for preadolescent children than adolescents, and for outpatient as opposed to hospitalized youngsters. More recent findings suggest that parent-child agreement may be influenced by factors such as type of assessment methods (Forehand, Frame, Wierson, Armistead, and Kempton, 1991), parental psychopathology and gender of the child (Jensen, Traylor, Xenakis, & Davis, 1988), and indices of family functioningsuch as family cohesion and adaptability (Andrews, Garrison, Jackson, Addy, & McKeown, 1993).

Of particular relevance here, the effect of an adolescent's clinical or diagnostic status on cross-informant agreement remains unclear. Emerging evidence suggests that non-clinical and clinical samples show distinct patterns of cross-informant agreement. There appears to be greater agreement between maternal and youth reports in non-clinical samples (Thomas, Forehand, Armistead, Wierson, & Fauber, 1990), and when disagreements occur, youths tend to report more symptomatology than their mothers (Offord & Boyle, 1988, Verhulst & van der Ende, 1992). By contrast, studies with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) adolescents (Barkley, Anastopoulos, Guevremont, & Fletcher, 1991) and hospitalized adolescent girls (Thurber & Snow, 1990) suggest that when mothers and youths disagree on the severity of behavioural disturbance, mothers report significantly more problems than teens.

To our knowledge, there are no studies directly comparing maternal and youth ratings of psychopathology in juvenile delinquents. This is surprising considering the nature and severity of problems experienced by many delinquent youth. There is one published report comparing caretaker (an individual responsible for supervising/monitoring the youth) and incarcerated male delinquent reports of psychopathology that found that the delinquents' ratings did not correlate significantly with caretaker ratings (Forehand et al., 1991). Given this finding, and given that clinicians often rely on parent and adolescent reports of psychopathology when assessing nonincarcerated delinquents, there is a need for further examination of the concordance between parent and youth ratings. …