Describing associations between child maltreatment frequency and the frequency and timing of subsequent delinquent or criminal behaviors across development: variation by sex, sexual orientation, and race [2019]

Background
Child maltreatment has been linked to lower health, education, and income later in life, and is associated with increased engagement in delinquent or criminal behaviors. This paper explores trajectories of these behaviors from adolescence into early adulthood and tests maltreatment as a predictor, and whether observed patterns are consistent across different demographic groups.

Methods
Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a longitudinal study of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adolescents (in grades 7–12 in the 1994–95 school year), we ran linear mixed effects models to estimate growth curves of two dependent variables: violent and nonviolent offending behavior. We tested if maltreatment altered the intercept or slope of the curves and how the curves of these behaviors and the associations between them and maltreatment varied by sex, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Results
The sample (n = 10,613) had equal proportions males and females, approximately one third identified as a race/ethnicity other than white, and over 10% were non-heterosexual. Experiences of maltreatment were highest for Native Americans and lowest for whites. Models indicated that males were more likely than females to engage in both violent and nonviolent offending and respondents who identified as non-heterosexual were more likely than their heterosexual peers to engage in nonviolent offending behavior. When maltreatment was included in models as a predictor, adolescents who experienced maltreatment had a more rapid increase in their non-violent offending behavior. For violent offending behavior, adolescents who experienced maltreatment had higher levels of offending and the levels progressively increased as maltreatment frequency did. Sex was a moderator; the relationship between maltreatment and predicted nonviolent offending was stronger for males than it was for females. Race/ethnicity and sexual orientation did not moderate the associations between maltreatment and offending behavior.

Conclusions
This study provides insights from a nationally representative sample into the pattern of both delinquent and criminal behaviors in adolescence and young adulthood, describing not only how the pattern varies over time, but also by sociodemographics and offending type. Additionally, it highlights how the association between maltreatment and these behaviors varies by both offending type and sex.

Hannah Lantos, Andra Wilkinson, Hannah Winslow & Tyler McDaniel
BMC Public Health, volume 19, Article number: 1306 (2019)
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