Academic journal article Social Work Research

Family Contact and Recidivism: A Longitudinal Study of Adjudicated Delinquents in Residential Care

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Family Contact and Recidivism: A Longitudinal Study of Adjudicated Delinquents in Residential Care

Article excerpt

Families are critical to understanding and interrupting patterns of delinquent and criminal behavior. The objective of this study was to determine whether specific types of contact with family members are associated with a reduced risk of recidivism after a long-term residential program for juvenile delinquents. Family contact reports were analyzed for a random sample of 90 adjudicated delinquents released from a long-term residential facility in Michigan. Two years after their release from residential care, official arrest reports were provided by the Michigan State Police Department. Thirty-six percent of the youths were arrested at least once. Cox regression coefficients indicate that age, race, and family contact were related to subsequent involvement with the adult correctional system. In-home counseling, campus visits initiated by family members, and home visits initiated by the family service worker reduced the likelihood of recidivism. The implications for social work policy and practice are discussed.

KEY WORDS: delinquency; family; recidivism; residential care; youths


Approximately 109,000 juvenile offenders were in residential placement in the United States in 1999 (Sickmund, 2002).The primary objectives of residential placement are to understand and interrupt patterns of delinquent behavior. Treatment providers offer a range of services, including but not limited to individualized assessments, group work, family work, and aftercare. Research indicates that many of these services are related to the stated objectives of placement. For example, there is a broad range of literature that explores the risk assessment process (Funk, 1999; Kawahara, 2002) and the effectiveness of aftercare services (Mtschuler & Armstrong, 1995; Altschuler, Armstrong, & Roberts, 1998; Ryan, Davis, & Yang, 2001; Sarri, Rollin, Stephens, & Wolfson, 1996). In part, the findings indicate that risk factors differ for male and female offenders and that the provision of aftercare services significantly reduces the risk of recidivism. These studies are important contributions in the profession's commitment to advance intervention knowledge and understand the treatment mechanisms associated with long-term success. But social work researchers have yet to investigate the effectiveness of all components of residential placement. In particular, research on the benefits of family work is noticeably absent from the literature.

The family system is important in the development and continuation of delinquent behavior. Yet, there is relatively little research on the effectiveness of direct practice with families in the context of residential care for juvenile offenders. The absence of such research leaves many questions unanswered. For example, are regular phone contacts related to the successful completion of program goals? Are campus visits related to family reunification? Are overnight visits associated with a reduction in criminal behavior? The purpose of our study was to address the gap in knowledge regarding family work and the likelihood of recidivism. We explored the treatment activities that involved family members and investigated the relationship between the frequency of such activities and recidivism.


A relationship should exist between the individual activities of a social work intervention and the problem the intervention is to address. This relationship is based on assumptions about the causes of a problem (Martin & Kettner, 1996). With regard to the present study, a relationship should exist between treatment activities with family members and a reduction in the likelihood of delinquent behavior. The association between family contact and delinquency is based on the assumption that certain family factors or characteristics (for example, levels of functioning and parenting practices) are associated with delinquent and criminal conduct. …

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