Juvenile Offenders with Behavioral Disorders, Learning Disabilities, and No Disabilities: Self-Reports of Personal, Family, and School Characteristics

By Zabel, Robert H.; Nigro, Frank A. | Behavioral Disorders, November 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Juvenile Offenders with Behavioral Disorders, Learning Disabilities, and No Disabilities: Self-Reports of Personal, Family, and School Characteristics


Zabel, Robert H., Nigro, Frank A., Behavioral Disorders


Considerable research has examined factors that place youth at high risk for antisocial behavior and delinquency (e.g., Brier, 1995; Carran, Nemerofsky, Rock, & Kerins, 1996; Loeber, 1990; Pungello, Kupersmidt, Burchinal, & Patterson, 1996; Resnick et al., 1997). Individual, family, and school characteristics and experiences have been identified that place children at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD) and learning disabilities (LD), social maladjustment, antisocial behavior, and juvenile delinquency (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1993; Kauffman, 1997). Adverse experiences in any single arena do not necessarily place a child at high risk for antisocial behavior, but when multiple factors exist, the effects multiply.

Individual characteristics include being male, African American, having a disability--especially attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-use of drugs and alcohol, and getting into trouble early. Researchers who have studied how some children overcome multiple risk factors, or are resilient (e.g., Garmezy, 1987; Rutter, 1990) have found that personal traits, including intelligence and the ability to find sources of adult involvement and support, reduce the effects of other risk factors.

Home and family characteristics that place children at risk include nonintact families, poverty, low levels of parent education, incarceration of close family members, parent drug use, and young age of mother at first childbirth. A review of 50 studies of relationships of juvenile crime and family structure indicates significant delinquency-promoting effects of parental divorce and separation (Wells & Rankin, 1991). Several researchers (e.g. Amato & Keith, 1991; Wallerstein, 1985) have provided evidence of adverse long-term effects of family conflict and divorce on children, while noting that it is not divorce alone, but associated financial, social, and emotional factors that have damaging effects.

Recognition that many juvenile offenders have disabilities has drawn the attention of special educators to examine their school experiences (e.g., Howell, 1995; Jarvelin, Laara, Rantakallio, Moilanan, & Isohanni, 1995; Leone, Rutherford, & Nelson, 1991; McIntyre, 1993; Nelson & Pearson, 1994). Problem behavior-especially aggressive and antisocial behavior-in the early grades is a clear predictor of both special education placement and later delinquency (Patterson, Reid, & Dishion 1992; Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995).

Despite apparent relationships between disability (especially E/BD and LD) and delinquency, there has been no systematic comparison of juvenile offenders with disabilities and those without disabilities. The present study was designed to examine characteristics and experiences of a large sample of juvenile offenders and to determine what similarities and differences might exist in the personal, family, and school characteristics and experiences of those who have had experience in special education and those who have had no special education experience.

Juvenile offenders confined to a juvenile detention facility were questioned about aspects of their personal, home, and school experiences. Most questions reflected factors that have been associated with antisocial, socially maladjusted, and disturbed and disordered patterns of behavior. In addition, as an exploratory study focusing on comparisons of juvenile offenders with and without disabilities, questions were included concerning participants' school experiences, such as number of repeated grades, age when first in trouble at school and first suspended from school, number of schools attended, assaults of school officials, and whether or not participants like school and like teachers.

Method

Participants

Youth between the ages of 12 and 18 who were confined to a juvenile detention facility in Kansas participated in the study. The facility provides short-term placements for juvenile offenders from the 12 counties that sponsor the facility, youth transferred from nonparticipating counties (approximately 33% of participants), and out-of-state youth detained while passing through the region (approximately 7%). …

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