Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Effectiveness of Multisystemic Therapy for Minority Youth: Outcomes over 8 Years in Los Angeles County

Academic journal article Journal of Juvenile Justice

Effectiveness of Multisystemic Therapy for Minority Youth: Outcomes over 8 Years in Los Angeles County

Article excerpt


In recent years, criminal justice agencies have increasingly focused on the delivery of evidence-based practices; i.e., programs and principles that have been rigorously evaluated and shown to be effective. One of the more prominent programs is Multisystemic Therapy (MST)®. Positive program outcomes have earned MST a place among recommended programs by many evaluators of youth violence reduction programs, including the U.S. Surgeon General (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999), the Blueprints for Violence Prevention, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Guide for Implementing the Comprehensive Strategy for Serious, Violent, and Chronic Juvenile Offenders (Howell, 1995). MST continues to be implemented with increasing frequency in the United States, as well as internationally. As reported by MST's website, MST therapy is employed in 34 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and in 13 countries around the world (MST, Inc., 2010).

MST is an intensive family- and community-based treatment for serious, violent, and chronic juvenile offenders between 12 and 17 years of age (Henggeler, 1997). Grounded in the social ecological theory of antisocial behavior among youth (Bronfernbrenner, 1979), MST addresses the multiple determinants of serious antisocial behavior, viewing individuals as embedded within a complex network of interconnected systems, including individual, family, and extra-familial (peer, school, neighborhood) factors (Henggeler, 1997; Tighe, Pistrang, Casdagli, Baruch, & Butler, 2012). Intervention may occur in any one or a combination of these systems (Henggeler, Mihalic, Rone, Thomas, & Timmons-Mitchell, 2001 ).

The primary goal of MST is to empower parents with the skills and resources needed to independently address the difficulties that arise in raising teenagers and to empower youth to cope with family, peer, school, and neighborhood problems. As a result, MST addresses multiple factors related to delinquency across the key settings within which youth are embedded. The program strives to promote behavioral change within the youth's natural environment, using the strengths of each system (e.g., family, peers, school, neighborhood, indigenous support network) to facilitate change. Within a context of support and skill building, the MST therapist places developmentally appropriate demands on the adolescent for responsible behavior and on the family for encouraging responsible behavior. Intervention strategies include strategic family therapy, structural family therapy, behavioral parent training, and cognitive behavioral therapies (Henggeler et al., 2001).

Although MST has largely been positively received, questions remain, including for whom and under what conditions MST is most effective. In particular, two areas have been inadequately addressed in the literature: (a) Most evaluations of MST have been based on small samples and therefore lack statistical power, and (b) previous evaluations of MST have included very few Hispanic youth, if any. The current examination of MST directly addresses these gaps in knowledge.This article examines family and criminal justice outcomes over 8 years of MST programming in Los Angeles County juvenile probation. Specifically, we focus on selected juvenile justice outcomes and measures of youth and family functioning.


MST programs have been repeatedly evaluated using randomized designs and have largely been found to be effective in reducing delinquent behaviors (e.g., Henggeler et al., 1986; Henggeler, Melton, & Smith, 1992; Borduin et al., 1995; Schaeffer & Borduin, 2005; Butler, Baruch, Hickey, & Fonagy, 2011; Gervan, Granic, Solomon, Blokland, & Ferguson, 2012; Asscher, Dekovic, Manders, van der Laan, & Prins, 2013). The most frequently cited evidence for the effectiveness of MST come from studies in Memphis, Tennessee (Henggeler et al., 1986), Simpsonville, South Carolina (Henggeler et al. …

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