Child Maltreatment Histories and Adolescent-Parent Attachment as Predictors of Individual Differences in Psychological Symptoms Among Chronic Juvenile Offenders

Brook McClintic, University of Colorado at Boulder
Louise Silvern, University of Colorado at Boulder
Joanne Belknap, University of Colorado at Boulder

The present study tested recent theory that certain child rearing variables predict individual differences in psychological symptoms and treatment needs among 140 male, chronic juvenile delinquents. The predictors tested were quality of adolescent-parent attachment and five types of maltreatment, i.e., child physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, witnessing parental domestic violence, and neglect. Each maltreatment type was assessed with four assessment strategigies: Child Protective Services records prior to first arrest; two types of self-report formats; and reports by professionals familiar with the adolescents and their families. Perceived attachment as well as depressive and posttraumatic symptoms were assessed with established, self-report measures. Consistent with previous literature, maltreatment rates among participants were substantially6 higher than general population rates. Elevated psychological symptoms were predicted by exposure to more types and greater severity of maltreatment. Unfavorable parental (especially paternal) attachment was also associated with elevated symptoms as well as with abuse indicators. However, associations of maltreatment indices to elevated symptoms were statistically independent of variation in attachment, with only a few exceptions. Discussion suggested that child maltreatment enters into the developmental pathway of highly symptomatic delinquents more than others. Abuse-specific psychological interventions should be tested for those delinquents who have severe maltreatment histories and elevated symptoms.

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Updated 05/20/2006