Adolescents at Risk for Violence: An Initial Validation of the Life Challenges Questionnaire and Risk Assessment Index

Article excerpt


Adolescent violence is a serious issue which has gained attention nationally. Such problems as gang violence, teen-on-teen homicide, aggravated sexual assault, and domestic battery involving children and adolescents have raised concern among policymakers, law enforcement officials, school administrators, and others. Despite the nation's increased interest and concern, youth violence is not a new phenomenon. According to the 1999 "National Report on Juvenile Offenders and Victims" produced by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) (1999), the proportion of violent and seriously violent crimes (rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault) committed by juveniles has remained relatively constant since the 1980s. However, the total annual number of homicides committed by juveniles doubled between 1987 and 1994, with the majority committed by African American males between the ages of 15 and 17. Though the rate of juvenile homicide has since decreased, it remains at a level that is 21% above that of the 1980s (OJJDP, 1999). The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Supplemental Homicide Report, based on reported homicides nationwide, indicates that 12% of all murders committed nationwide involve at least one juvenile offender (OJJDP, 1999). Furthermore, recent research has estimated that the average career criminal, heavy drug abuser, and high school dropout costs society $3 million dollars in medical, legal, and psychological services, lost wages, and justice system costs (Cohen, M. as cited in OJJDP, 1999). It is clear from these statistics that juvenile violence and delinquency remains a major problem. In addition, the United States has the highest overall rate of violence among industrialized nations, with a significant surge of violent and aggressive acts being committed during the teen years (Dusenbury, Falco, & Lake, 1997).

As a result, a great deal of research in the past decade has focused on identifying trends in youth violence and risk behaviors in order to gain a better understanding of the magnitude of the problem and develop strategies for intervention and prevention. For example, in 1990 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), a self-report inventory designed to track risk behaviors of youth in grades 7 through 12 (Dorman & Pealer, 1999). This self-report questionnaire consists of 75 forced-choice items administered in the regular classroom using standard Scantron answer sheets. Since its inception, the YRBS has been administered every two years to a nationwide random sample of middle school and high school students in an effort to monitor the incidence and prevalence of six categories of risk behaviors including injuries, tobacco use, alcohol and other drug use, sexual behavior, dietary behaviors, and physical activity (Dorman & Pealer, 1999). In a recent report based on this survey, 20% of students nationwide brought a weapon to school, 38.7% had been in physical fights, 53.1% engaged in sex, 32% reported heavy drinking, 71% tried tobacco, 42.4% reported marijuana use, and 7% indicated use of cocaine in some form (Stevens & Griffin, 2001). In 1997, the National Crime Victimization Survey, a self-report questionnaire administered to a random sample of adolescents above the age of 12, indicated that adolescents were involved in 25% of serious violent victimizations annually, including rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault (OJJDP, 1999). Despite increasing interest in assessing the magnitude of adolescent involvement in violence-related crime and delinquency and monitoring changes in these activities, less attention has been focused on prevention efforts through early identification of adolescents in the general population who are at risk for involvement in violence. Early identification of adolescents at risk for violence is needed so that clinicians, educators, parents, and others can channel resources to assist adolescents in coping with challenges in their lives before they become involved in serious offenses. …


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