Volume 1, Issue 1 • Fall 2011

Table of Contents


Measuring Recidivism in Juvenile Corrections

Barron County Restorative Justice Programs: A Partnership Model for Balancing Community and Government Resources for Juvenile Justice Services

Parents Anonymous® Outcome Evaluation: Promising Findings for Child Maltreatment Reduction

Assessing Efficiency and Workload Implications of the King County Mediation Pilot

The Impact of Juvenile Drug Courts on Drug Use and Criminal Behavior

Missouri’s Crossover Youth: Examining the Relationship between Maltreatment History and Risk of Violenc

Assessing and Improving the Reliability of Risk Instruments: The New Mexico Juvenile Justice Reliability Model

School Policies, Academic Achievement, and General Strain Theory: Applications to Juvenile Justice Settings

Missouri’s Crossover Youth: Examining the Relationship between their Maltreatment History and their Risk of Violence

Anne Dannerbeck and Jiahui Yan
Office of State Courts Administrator, Jefferson City, Missouri

Anne Dannerbeck, Research Unit, Office of State Courts Administrator, Jefferson City, Missouri; Jiahui Yan, Office of State Courts Administrator, Jefferson City, Missouri

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Anne Dannerbeck Janku, Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator, PO Box 104480, Jefferson City, MO 65110. E-mail: Anne.Janku@courts.mo.gov

Key words: maltreatment, violence, delinquency, crossover, trauma


State agencies often have multiple opportunities to provide treatment services to child maltreatment victims, yet a significant number of youth still cross over to delinquency. The purpose of this study is to examine how delinquent youth with a maltreatment history may differ from other such youth in their risk factors and to explore the extent to which these risk factors are associated with violent delinquency. We used a developmental pathways model to examine how certain risk factors could be associated with maltreatment and violence. The risk factors included mental health, social environment, and offending history as well as gender and race. Results indicate that crossover youth have more severe risk factors than delinquent youth who do not have a history of maltreatment. In a multivariate model, maltreatment history increased the odds of an assault history (violence indicator) among 79,766 youth with status or delinquency referrals.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), youth violence is widespread and the second leading cause of death for youth in the United States (CDC, 2010). Child maltreatment is associated with youth violence (Gabarino, 1999; Herrenkohl, Herrenkohl, & Egolf, 2003; Stouthamer-Loeber, Loeber, Homish, & Wei, 2001) but the mechanisms that lead youth to cross over from the child welfare system, in which they are treated as victims, to the juvenile justice system, in which they are treated as perpetrators, are not well understood (Bilchik & Nash, 2008; Hollist, Hughes, & Schaible, 2009). Because maltreated youth have multiple system contacts, the child welfare and juvenile justice systems typically have numerous opportunities to impact their lives to deter them from offending. As is true in many states, child welfare and juvenile justice staff in Missouri are becoming increasingly aware of the crossover youth population. The purpose of this study is to examine how Missouri’s delinquent youth with a maltreatment history may differ from other delinquent youth in their risk factors for crossing over into delinquency, and to explore the extent to which these risk factors are associated with violent delinquency. This information will help Missouri as well as other states better meet the needs of crossover youth and thereby reduce the number of youth who cross over from one system to the other.


Researchers have presented persuasive evidence that a causal link exists between child maltreatment and violence (Smith, Ireland, Thornberry & Elwyn, 2008) but the nature of the relationship is still not well understood. As the following review of the literature will show, an understanding of who crosses over can be informed by analysis that includes general indicators of maltreatment and violent delinquency. A developmental pathway model informs our understanding of how risk factors for delinquency are associated with a child’s potential progression from maltreatment to violent behavior.

Defining Maltreatment

The definition of maltreatment and the way it is categorized varies considerably across the research literature (Smith, Ireland, Thornberry, & Elwyn, 2008). A recent research review concluded that because of inconsistencies in the way maltreatment is defined, no definitive conclusions can be drawn about its impact on subsequent behavior (Mass, Herrenkohl, & Sousa, 2008). Part of the inconsistency in definitions is driven by the data used to study the phenomenon.

Many studies have relied on administrative data sets, which vary in their definition and measurement of maltreatment, including neglect. Missouri’s child protection statute defines neglect as the “failure to provide...the proper or necessary support, education as required by law, nutrition or medical, surgical, or any other care necessary for the child’s well being” (Section 211.110 Missouri Revised Statutes). Many states do not include a consideration of education in their definition of neglect. Abuse in Missouri statute is “any physical injury, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse inflicted on a child other than by accidental means by those responsible for the child’s care, custody, and control, except discipline including spanking” (Section 211.110 Missouri Revised Statutes). While Missouri’s definition focuses on the well-being of the child, others use a definition that focuses more on actions of the perpetrator: behavioral acts that are episodic, non-accidental and resulting in harm to the child (U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 2009). Researchers have used a definition as broad as ”failure of the environment to provide opportunities for normal development” (Cichetti, 1996). To develop a strategy for working with crossover youth in Missouri, local data must be analyzed because results from other states using different measures of maltreatment may not yield the same results nor be subject to the same interpretation.

The Nature of Maltreatment

Distinct types of abuse and neglect add to the complexity of studying maltreatment. Some research indicates these distinct types have a differential impact on delinquency because of differences in the nature of the maltreatment and how a child experiences it (Hahm, Lee, Ozonoff, & Wert, 2010). To understand the extent to which maltreatment should be distinguished and studied separately or as one phenomenon, researchers must determine whether children tend to experience one type of maltreatment or a range of maltreatment types. A previous Missouri study focused on this issue, comparing five types of maltreatment in a statewide cohort of Missouri children who were tracked over four and a half years (Jonson-Reid, Drake, Chung, & Way, 2003). The researchers found that cross-type re-reports are common and that neglect is the most common re-report type, regardless of the first type of maltreatment. These findings lend some support for the idea of using a broad indicator of maltreatment to study its impact on delinquency, because many maltreatment victims experience more than one type of maltreatment.

Defining Violent Delinquency

Violent delinquency is the second key study variable and of particular concern for two reasons. First, violent victimization imposes high costs on individuals, families, and society. Second, delinquent youth who engage in violent behavior are more likely to continue a criminal career into adulthood compared with delinquent youth who limit offending to lesser offenses (Tracy & Kempf-Leonard, 1996; Loeber, Farrington, Stouthamer-Loeber, & White, 2008). So, although the overall proportion of juveniles who engage in violent behavior is relatively small (less than one-third of one percent of all juveniles ages 10 to 17 living in the United States), their potential to continue a long-term pattern of harmful offending is great (Puzzanchera, 2009).

As with maltreatment, the way researchers define and measure violent delinquency influences our thinking about the relationship between these behaviors. Especially for those interested in understanding violent behavior, the distinction between general delinquency and violence is critical; yet, some studies confound the two and report on an array of delinquent behaviors ranging from substance use to violence. Researchers measure violent behavior in three basic ways: through self-reports, victim reports, and administrative data from the courts, sometimes using one broad measure (Williams, van Dorn, Bright, Johnson-Reid, & Nebbit, 2010) and at other times creating very complex measures including any and all acts of violence. For a state level study such as this one, official definitions of violence can be derived from policy and legislation that identifies violent offenses. The scope of the study can be narrowed by restricting it to the population of interest—youth with behavior that enters into official reports as an incident of violent delinquency.

Connecting Maltreatment to Violent Delinquency

Researchers generally agree that maltreatment is associated with a range of delinquent behaviors, including violence (Benda & Corwyn, 2002), but the mechanisms leading from one to the other are not well understood. A developmental pathway perspective assumes that behavior develops in an ordered fashion (Egeland, Yates, Appleyard, & van Dulmen, 2002). Understanding the developmental pathway can provide guidance on how to intervene and prevent serious behavioral problems.

Maltreatment can interrupt normal development and, when coupled with other risk factors, lead to a pathway characterized by maladaptation in the form of increasingly serious behavioral problems. This study examines the interrelationships along this potential pathway between maltreatment and violence and related risk factors associated with mental health issues, social environmental factors, and justice system involvement.

Mental Health and Associated Factors

In considering the pathways that may lead from maltreatment to violence, one interrelated set of risk factors centers on mental health. Child maltreatment can cause or exacerbate mental health problems in youth (Coleman & Stewart, 2010) either through the resulting trauma or through out-of-home placement. Placement instability is a common experience for maltreated children in foster care and such instability can cause or exacerbate mental health problems (Jonson-Reid & Barth, 2000). Youth with mental health issues are at risk for delinquency and violence (Jonson-Reid, Williams, & Webster, 2001). One pathway into delinquency may be through substance abuse, which youth may use as a mechanism to cope with trauma. Some research indicates that substance abuse reduces the chances that a maltreated child will resort to violence (Coleman & Stewart, 2010). Without adequate coping mechanisms, trauma can lead youth to a host of socioemotional problems as well as behavioral disorders (Ford, 2002; Greenwald, 2002). The negative emotions associated with maltreatment, even more than the experience itself, have been shown to have an impact on general delinquent behavior (Hollist, Hughes, & Schaible, 2009) and violence through adolescence and into adulthood (Raskin White & Spatz Widom, 2003).

Because maltreatment can interrupt normal developmental processes, a child may suffer cognitive impairments that may be manifested in learning disabilities and poor social interaction skills (Hyter, 2007). These impairments, in turn, can lead to other developmental difficulties for a child. Learning disabilities can impact one’s academic performance. Because success in school can mediate the relationship between maltreatment and violent behavior, those with learning disabilities have a heightened risk for school failure and violence (Thornberry, 2005). Interpersonal skill deficits and aggressive behavior, common in maltreated children, affect their ability to form positive peer relationships (Bolger & Patterson, 2001; Wise & Egger, 2009). Without positive peer relationships, a maltreated child is at even greater risk of behaving violently (Chapple, Tyler, & Bersani, 2005).

Social Environment Risk Factors

Another set of risk factors linking maltreatment to violence concerns the social environment of the child, especially parent attributes and social support. Certain parenting practices are forms of child maltreatment, namely extremely harsh discipline and habitually ignoring or rejecting a child (Cernovich & Giodorno, 1987; Garbarino, 1999). The quality of parent supervision and nurturing influences how well a child copes with trauma and controls inappropriate behavior. Parenting practices have a major influence on the development of antisocial behavior in their children, including violent delinquency (Fitzgerald, 2010), either by reinforcing aggressive behavior through their own actions or by not nurturing a child’s ability to exercise self-control. Parental mental illness and substance abuse can impair their own cognitive functioning and adversely affect their ability to parent, as well (Bean, Barber, & Crane, 2006). Both conditions can also influence a parent’s likelihood of maltreating a child (Haskett & Willoughby, 2006). Parental incarceration is also related to ineffective parenting, child maltreatment, and violent behavior in youth. A parent’s criminal behavior may be disruptive to the household and may be exhibited in the way they parent children; in addition, a child may imitate the parent’s antisocial behavior (Dannerbeck, 2005).

Parenting attributes play a key role in child development, but the nature of support the developing child receives from extended family and community members also impacts the child’s ability to adapt to life experiences. Having a caring adult involved in their lives can help youth cope with trauma and compensate for the absence of effective parenting. Not having adequate interpersonal relationships to help a child cope with stress can lead a child on a pathway to antisocial behavior and violence (Hammack, Richards, Luo, Edlyn, & Roy, 2004)

History of Justice System Involvement

A youth’s personal history of justice system involvement, both as a maltreatment victim and as an offender, is associated with risk for future violence. The developmental pathway perspective provides insights into trajectories from an accumulation of risk factors to increasingly serious behaviors. Youth with a maltreatment history tend to have a constellation of other risk factors that lead to their early entry into the juvenile justice system (Ryan, Herz, Hernandez, & Marshall, 2007). Young delinquents are of special concern because they tend to have had multiple risk exposures in their lives that prevent them from completing developmental milestones. These risk experiences are manifested in their tendency to follow a pathway into more serious and violent offending (Burns et al., 2003). Those who have multiple system contacts as a violent delinquent are also at higher risk for further offending (Loeber et al., 2008) because of a tendency to repeat past behavioral patterns. Violent offenders, particularly those with both a maltreatment and violent history, are at further risk of adult criminal behavior (Widom & Maxfield, 2001) because of a developmental pathway characterized by an accumulation of risks and maladaptive behaviors that culminate in violence.

Demographic Factors

The key demographic variables of race and gender must also be considered when studying maltreatment and violent offending. Ryan and Testa (2005) found that African American youth who had been in the child welfare system were twice as likely as their Caucasian counterparts to be arrested at least once. Reasons for such disproportional findings are often linked to the association between race and poverty and to suggestions of biased decision-making (Williams, Ayers, Outlaw, Abbott, & Hawkins, 2001). Low income families, who are often minorities, tend to have more system involvement as they seek resources from the public sector to support their families; in addition, minority families are disproportionally poor. Because of greater system involvement, more opportunities exist to observe parenting behaviors and the condition of children, and to associate these observations with child maltreatment (Lawrence-Webb, 1997; Williams et al., 2001). In addition, youth in low income, predominantly minority neighborhoods are at heightened risk for other forms of violent victimization; those who are victims of violence have an increased likelihood of engaging in violent behavior themselves (Howell, 2009).

A growing body of research has consistently shown that the risk exposure experiences of young women differ from those of young men involved in the justice system (Bright & Jonson-Reid, 2008; Howell, 2009). Juvenile offenders generally have high rates of victimization and maltreatment as well as mental health problems and substance abuse (McCabe, Lansing, Garland, & Hough, 2002; Kataoka et al., 2001). Comparing the effect of maltreatment on male and female delinquent youth indicates that the maltreatment seems to impact females more than males (Howell, 2009), with females often enduring long-term trauma from the experience. Apparently the trauma does not always translate into offending behavior for girls. Maltreated boys, compared with maltreated girls, are more likely to engage in delinquent behavior later in childhood, especially externalizing problem behaviors that include violence (Graham-Bermann & Hughes, 2003; Bright & Jonson-Reid, 2008).

Because maltreated children tend to experience more than one type of maltreatment, a general indicator of maltreatment is a valid study measure. According to the developmental pathways perspective explained above, maltreatment interrupts normal developmental processes. For this study, these interruptions are reflected in four categories of risk factors: those related to mental health status, the social environment, a history of juvenile justice system involvement, and demographic variables. In Missouri, youth who are formally processed in the court system receive a ”risk to reoffend” assessment to help in identifying the appropriate level of supervision and services needed. We use these risk indicators to test the hypothesis that significant differences exist among youth with and without a history of child maltreatment in their tendency toward violent behavior and risk for reoffending. We use the officially recognized offense categories associated with violence in Missouri as the violence indicators. The following section describes how we tested this hypothesis.

Data and Methodology

We use data from the Missouri judicial data system (called the Judicial Information System or JIS) to identify crossover youth. For a legally sufficient status or law referral, a statewide risk assessment is required by Missouri Statutes (Subsection 4 and 5, Section 211.326.1, Missouri Revised Statutes Supplement 1995) and recorded in the JIS. These assessments are designed to collect information on youth personal history of involvement with the justice system (as a victim and perpetrator), mental health issues, and social environment influences associated with risks to reoffend. A risk assessment committee (comprised of representatives from the Missouri Juvenile and Family Courts, Missouri Division of Youth Services, and the Missouri Juvenile Justice Association) has developed a consensus-based juvenile offender classification system that includes a risk assessment. The risk assessment has been refined through two risk assessment validation studies (Leonard, 1998; Johnson, Wagner, and Matthews, 2002) using well-established validity criteria. These criteria include: progressively higher recidivism rates at each risk level, maximum separation between risk levels, and a clear distinction between risk levels in terms of recidivism (NCCD, 1997). Reliability is ensured through frequent training sessions on the assessment tool for new and continuing juvenile office staff.

The risk assessments are usually conducted through a face-to-face structured interview between juvenile office staff and the youth with a parent(s) or caregiver(s) present. The Office of State Courts Administrator provides training on use of the structured instruments to juvenile court officers and court staff to enhance the consistency and accuracy of the measurements taken during the interview. Information from the interviews is crosschecked with official records. When conflicts occur, information from official records is used.

Variables obtained from the juvenile offender risk and needs assessments and related to offenses are briefly described below by category. More detailed information, such as assessment forms, definition of risk and needs factors, and questionnaires for the structured interviews, can be found in the user manual provided by the Office of State Courts Administrator (2005).

Maltreatment Indicator

The purpose of this study was to determine whether certain risk factors, including maltreatment, are associated with violent offending. To determine whether a youth has a history of child abuse/neglect (dichotomous variable for history or not), juvenile officers examine Children’s Division or juvenile court records accessed through the Missouri Juvenile Justice Information System, a statewide database with information from a range of state agencies. They look for official records for the child with a finding of Probable Cause indicating abuse or neglect. In addition, they look for petitions filed in juvenile or family court for abuse or neglect. Included in the affirmative determination of a history of maltreatment are petitions dismissed without prejudice. If juvenile officers can’t access information from this system, they use self-reported information.

Violence Indicator

In Missouri, violent offenses are those in which “the offender recklessly or knowingly inflicts, or intends to inflict, or threatens serious physical injury or death” (Office of State Courts Administrator, 2005, p.2-8). Assault history, which is the dependent variable for violent behavior in the multivariate analysis, includes both present and past assault charges. The original response set included no assault referrals, one or more misdemeanor assaults, and one or more felony assaults. For this study we collapsed the two assault categories into one general indicator of assault. Offenses categorized as assaults include homicides, sexual assaults, robbery, general assault, arson, and kidnapping. Official court records provided this information. We presumed that any reported history of child abuse/neglect occurred prior to any assault behaviors.

Mental Health and Associated Risk Indicators

Categorical variables cover mental health history and problems with externalizing behavior, substance abuse, learning disorders, interpersonal skill levels, school attendance or discipline, and academic performance as well as substance abuse history. Juvenile office staff ask youth if they have ever received a diagnosis from a mental health professional (excluding learning disorders, conduct disorders, and substance abuse) and if they have received treatment for the problem. In assessing behavior problems (none, moderate, severe) other than the self-reported information, interviewers make a determination based on information related to significant behavior problems at home or school, and information from previous referrals, particularly for assault. They assess substance abuse by asking parents a series of questions based on tangible behavioral markers of substance abuse and associated behaviors. They then ask the youth a series of questions related to substance abuse patterns, and the interaction of substance abuse and other behavior problems. From the answers of parents and youth, the interviewers determine into which of three categories (none, moderate, or severe substance abuse problems) a youth falls.

A deficit in reading, writing, or mathematical ability indicates a learning disorder. The interviewers measure the level of school behavior problems (none, moderate, or severe) through referrals for truancy, out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or multiple unexcused absences. They score academic performance (passing, below average, or failing) based on grades obtained from school, when available, or by asking the youth what his or her grades were. Attitude is one of the more subjective factors assessed. It is derived from a series of 15 questions about trust, role of authority figures, impressions of the court proceedings, and level of empathy. The interviewers compare the responses to descriptions of three categorical responses (motivated, uncooperative, or negative) to identify which one best fit the youth. The interviewers identify an interpersonal skill level (good, moderate or severely impaired) from a series of 10 questions about the nature of the youth’s friendships.

Social Environment Indicators

For this study, we used an additional set of variables to measure the social environmental influence of parents, peers, and social support systems. The assessment classifies parent management style based on effectiveness. Effective parent management style indicates that structure, support, and supervision are consistent and appropriate. Moderately ineffective parent management style indicates a lack of consistent and appropriate supervision and guidance. Severely ineffective parent management style indicates a complete lack of discipline, guidance, or structure. To operationalize these categories, the interviewers ask the youth 13 questions about parent involvement, family routines, parental monitoring, and consistency. The interviewers elicit yes/no responses from parents to questions about family activities, routines, chores, parent monitoring, curfews, parent acquaintances and friendships, parent alcohol use, use of rewards and punishments, and fairness. They ask the youth to describe the frequency of punishment follow-through and of parent agreement on discipline. The interviewers then ask parents a more open-ended question about how the youth would describe their parents, especially about how strict they are. From their responses, the interviewers make a subjective determination about which of the three levels of effectiveness best describe the parents’ management style.

The juvenile office interviewers ask youth and parents whether the parent(s) had ever been diagnosed with a mental disorder, and if either of them had ever been incarcerated. The interviewers ask the parent(s) additional questions about their substance abuse history. To assess peer relationships and their influence (neutral, negative, or strongly negative), the interviewers ask youth 21 questions about their friends and court contacts, positive and negative behaviors, dating, parent’s impressions of friends, and specific activities, including gang affiliations. Youth rated as having strong negative influences had a primary contact group heavily involved in delinquent activities, frequent court contacts, and gang membership.

To gauge social support, the interviewers ask youth seven questions about the positive influences of good role models in their lives and the negative influences of those involved in criminal activities. The juvenile office interviewers distinguish the responses by the presence, consistency, and strength of positive and negative role models and categorize these responses into one of four levels: strong and stable social support with positive role models; limited support system with one positive role model; weak support system with no positive role models; and highly unstable support system with criminal influence.

Justice System Involvement

For personal history of involvement with the justice system, the interviewers examine past records for the age at first referral and the number of prior referrals. For this study, we created a dichotomous variable for information on the juvenile’s out-of-home placement history, including any stay in a government-operated or private residential facility.

We also included in the analysis demographic variables for gender and race/ethnicity. The racial categories were Caucasian, African American, and other, which included Asian, Native American, and Hispanic.

Analytic Plan

The study group consisted of 79,766 youth who had at least one status or delinquency referral case and at least one risk assessment recorded between 2002 and 2009 in the JIS. If multiple assessments existed for a youth, we kept the most recently entered record to capture their most up-to-date information. We used this study group to test the hypothesis that significant differences exist between youth with and without a history of child maltreatment in their tendency toward violent behavior and risk factors for reoffending. We conducted chi-square tests to identify significant risk and needs factors associated with the crossover youth. In addition, we examined the relationship between violent behaviors and crossover status while controlling for other risk factors in a logistic regression model.


In the study group, 13,609 youth had a history of child maltreatment, which accounted for 17% of the youth under study. Table 1 provides a description of each variable and the proportion of crossover youth in each category. Approximately 75% of the study group was Caucasian, 22% were African American, and 3% were from other racial groups. The chi-square testing results showed that African American delinquent youth were more likely (about one chance out of five) to have a maltreatment history than any other racial group. Females comprised approximately 35% of the African American group, and a higher proportion of them (19.6%) suffered from child maltreatment compared with males (15.7%).

Table 1 Variable Frequency and Crosstabs for Crossover Youth (N = 79,766).

NOTE: Due to size, follow this link to view >>

The chi-square testing results also showed that a history of child maltreatment was significantly associated with crossover among the youth studied: that is, referral to the juvenile justice system at a younger age (most likely at 12 and under), an assault history (especially felony assault), and a prior out-of-home placement.

Closely related to the experience of being maltreated, these crossover youth were likely to have one or two parent(s) with a history of mental disorders, substance abuse, prior incarceration, and a severely ineffective parent management style. In addition, they were also prone to having peers with a strongly negative influence and to have a strongly negative social support system.

We found that crossover youth were also more likely to experience mental health problems, especially at a severe level, including mental illness, learning disorders, impaired interpersonal skills, substance abuse, academic failure, and behavior problems (both in general and at school). These crossover youth were likely to have negative and defiant attitudes and to be resistant to change.

To test whether a history of child maltreatment would have any significant impact on violent behavior among the delinquent youth after controlling for demographic and other risk and needs factors, we conducted a logistic regression with assault history as the response variable, in which ‘1’ denoted a youth with one or more prior/present referrals for a misdemeanor or felony assault. Due to the strong correlation between the history of out-of-home placement and child maltreatment history, we took the history of out-of-home placement out of the model to avoid multicollinearity. Table 2 provides the significant regression results from a stepwise selection. The model was shown to be fit based on the Hosmer and Lemeshow goodness-of-fit test. The statistic c (area under the ROC curve) was 0.689.

Table 2 Logit Estimates of Significant Effects on Assault History

  Parameter Odds Ratio 95% CI
Gender Male =1 vs. Female 1.409*** (1.348, 1.466)
Race African American =1 vs. Caucasian 1.551*** (1.484, 1.621)
Child maltreatment history Yes = 1 vs. No 1.079*** (1.026, 1.134)
Mental Health Issues
Juvenile mental health status Mental disorder w/ treatment =1 vs. No 1.441*** (1.371, 1.515)
  Mental disorder =1 w/o treatment vs. No 1.419*** (1.291, 1.559)
Juvenile interpersonal skills Moderately =1 impaired vs. Good 1.086*** (1.038, 1.136)
  Severely =1 impaired vs. Good 1.204*** (1.095, 1.325)
Juvenile substance abuse Moderate problem =1 vs. No 0.912*** (0.871, 0.955)
  Severe problem/dependence =1 vs. No 0.878*** (0.798, 0.966)
Juvenile school behavior Moderate problem =1 vs. No or minor 1.339*** (1.281, 1.400)
  Severe problem =1 vs. No or minor 1.294*** (1.217, 1.376)
Juvenile behavior problem Moderate problem =1 vs. No or minor 1.663*** (1.582, 1.749)
  Severe problem =1 vs. No or minor 2.905*** (2.693, 3.134)
Attitudes Defensive =1 vs. Motivated 1.106*** (1.055, 1.160)
  Very negative / defiant =1 vs. Motivated 1.183***
(1.087, 1.288)
Social Environment
Parental prior incarceration Yes =1 vs. No 1.248*** (1.194, 1.304)
Social support system
Limited =1 vs. Good 1.115*** (1.066, 1.165)
  Weak =1 vs. Good 1.131*** (1.06, 1.206)
  Strong negative/criminal influence =1 vs. Good 1.267*** (1.118, 1.437)

Note: *** p < .001

The logistic regression results showed that a history of child maltreatment is a significant factor in predicting a tendency toward violence, but the effect was not strong. The crossover youth had only about 1.08 times the odds of receiving one or more referral(s) for assault when all other factors were controlled. The logistic regression results also showed that among maltreated youth, gender and race were both significant factors in predicting a tendency toward violence. Males had 1.41 times the odds of females and African American youth had 1.55 times the odds of Caucasian youth of receiving a referral for assault.
Most factors related to mental health status were significantly associated with an assault referral. The presence of juvenile mental health issues (with estimated odds ratio 1.44) and behavior problems (both in general and at school) were shown to have the strongest effects on increasing a youth’s tendency to receive an assault referral. A youth with severe behavior problems was almost three times more likely to be referred for assault than a youth who either did not have severe behavior problems or who had minor behavior problems. Negative attitudes and impaired interpersonal skills had about the same moderate effects. When a juvenile offender displayed a very negative/defiant attitude and resisted change, or when he or she showed severely impaired interpersonal skills, the odds of receiving an assault referral were 1.20 times greater than were the odds among those who were motivated to change and to develop good interpersonal skills. Substance abuse turned out to be negatively associated with a tendency toward violence among youth after controlling other factors.

Parental history of incarceration and the lack of a positive social support system were two significant social environmental factors associated with violence among the youth studied. The tendency toward youth violence was positively influenced by exposure to criminal lifestyles; the odds for violent behavior among those with one or two parents who were incarcerated were 1.25 times greater than for those without such exposure. When compared with youth who had a strong social support system, those with a limited support system had increased odds of receiving assault referrals.


The study group consisted of 79,766 children in Missouri’s juvenile justice system who had status and delinquency referrals and related risk assessments. The results provide support for the hypothesis that significant differences exist between youth with and without a history of child maltreatment in their tendency toward violent behavior and risk factors associated with reoffending. These results also support the general proposition of the developmental pathways perspective—that the accumulation of risk factors over the life course heightens the likelihood that a child will engage in violent behavior, a finding supported by other research (Bilchik & Nash, 2008).

The crossover youth in this study tended to have severe risks and acute needs. They tended to become delinquent at a relatively young age, to have an assault history, and to have experienced inadequate parenting as indicated by parent mental disorders, substance abuse, incarceration, and severely ineffective parenting. These crossover youth tended to lack the social bonds associated with a positive support system and role models. With their history of maltreatment and parental deficits, the crossover youth also tended to suffer from mental health issues, including mental illness, learning disorders, impaired interpersonal skills, substance abuse, academic failure, behavior problems (both in general and at school), and negative attitudes. They were clearly a group of justice system involved youth who needed treatment services.

Developmental theorists posit that an accumulation of risk factors, including maltreatment, can lead youth to commit violent acts. Evidence of such a relationship among Missouri youth would raise the significance of the crossover youth issue to an urgent level. To test such an association, we analyzed a multivariate model of assault history, including other risk factors commonly associated with violent behavior. Child maltreatment history was significantly associated with assaultive behavior but the relative strength of the association was not as strong as that of other factors. The lack of a strong association may, in part, be explained by the fact that child maltreatment may be underreported in official records, the most common source of information for this assessment variable. A previous study of 104 high-risk delinquent youth in Missouri found that 61% self-reported having been abused or neglected (Dannerbeck, 2004), a much higher proportion than in this statewide sample. Part of a strategy to address crossover youth may be to better identify the maltreatment experiences of delinquent youth.

Recognizing that maltreatment often leads to trauma, the experiences of crossover youth may be better understood by examining factors associated with mental health status. Youth with problems associated with mental health indicators were at increased likelihood to have assault referrals. Often the trauma is manifested in problem behaviors, negative attitudes, learning disorders, and poor peer relations, all factors shown to significantly increase the likelihood of assault referrals in this study of Missouri youth.
To prevent further problem behaviors, crossover youth need treatment services designed to help them cope with the trauma of their life experiences. The challenge is to identify the trauma and link the child to appropriate treatment. Trauma tends to be more readily recognized in abused children who are more likely than neglected children to receive services to help them cope with trauma. Despite commonly receiving some treatment, abused children still tend to engage in delinquent behaviors, including violence. This may be because, while abused youth are more likely to receive services, the level of services provided is commonly below national standards for children with such identified needs (Raghavan, Inoue, Ettner, Hamilton, & Lansverk, 2010). Any strategies developed for crossover youth should base treatment on national standards and match needs to specific services.

Learning disorders are associated with maltreatment and trauma. In this study, a significant proportion of crossover youth had a learning disorder. Learning disorders are not significant in the multivariate model, but school behavior problems are associated with an increased likelihood of receiving assault referrals. School behavior problems include discipline issues and truancy. Truancy can be associated with one form of maltreatment in Missouri, educational neglect. Educational neglect occurs when a child misses school consistently or for an extended period of time and the parents are held responsible for the child’s absences. At some age, the responsibility of school attendance may pass from the parents to the child and turn into truancy. Courts across the state vary as to when they feel the responsibility for school attendance shifts from the parent to the child. Thus, a child who is labeled truant in one locale may be identified as a victim of educational neglect in another locale. Interventions designed to promote school performance commonly focus on the youth and not the parents. Given the possibility that educational neglect—a parental behavior—is impacting the youth, such interventions may need to target parents as well as youth. These findings suggest that the types of maltreatment a child has experienced should be included in their assessment.

Only one variable in the model—that is, substance abuse—decreased the odds of having an assault referral. As other studies have shown, youth may turn to substance abuse to reduce the impact of trauma resulting from maltreatment (Coleman & Stewart, 2010). Although substance abuse is considered a form of delinquency, in maltreated youth it may function as a coping mechanism that decreases the likelihood of violent offending. Crossover youth may need more trauma-focused treatment when substance abuse treatment is identified as an area of need.

Other studies have shown that girls are more likely to be maltreated than boys; but among those suffering from maltreatment, boys are more likely to cross over to delinquency and violence (Hubbard & Pratt, 2002). In this study by Hubbart and Pratt (2002), a higher proportion of delinquent girls had a maltreatment history, but being male increased the odds of having an assault history. Males more commonly engage in externalizing behaviors than females, and these problem behaviors are significantly associated with assaults (Barbaresi et al., 2002). Girls’ violent behavior tends to occur in the context of a relationship (Leitz, 2003). Girls seem to have more mental health problems associated with trauma and violent victimization than males (Teplin, Abram, McClelland, Dulcan, & Mericle, 2002). These gender-specific findings suggest that female delinquent youth would benefit from a crossover youth strategy that emphasizes mental health assessments and treatment as well as family-centered interventions.

Some studies have found racial disparities in child maltreatment cases and in crossing over (Ryan & Testa, 2005; Ryan et al., 2007). This study found that a higher proportion of delinquent African Americans had a maltreatment history and, similar to other research findings (Hawkins, Laub, Lauritsen, & Cothern, 2000), being African American increased the odds of having an assault history. In behavior self-report studies, African Americans do not report levels of violence much different from that of Caucasians (Snyder & Sickmund, 2006). Yet compared with similar Caucasian youth, African Americans are twice as likely to be arrested (Herz & Ryan, 2008). This pattern may be related to differential policing practices, with more police presence in low income, predominantly minority communities (Howell, 2003). Some communities in Missouri are already developing strategies to address racial disparity issues in the juvenile justice system by examining the context in which referrals are being made. Many assault referrals come from schools as a response to school discipline issues. Communities are concerned because there are a disproportionate number of assault referrals for African Americans. Community stakeholders are working to develop alternative methods to address student behavior and reduce justice system contact. Their methods include peer mediation and conflict resolution training. These community prevention initiatives could become part of a statewide strategy for crossover youth.

In the social environment, the only parent attribute in our study that was statistically associated with assaults was parental incarceration, a risk factor which can impact children in a variety of ways, including mental health status and violent behavior (Bloom & Steinhart, 1993; Johnston, 1995; Murray & Farrington, 2005). The lack of a critical protective factor, positive social support, was also associated with assaults. Mentoring programs can provide opportunities for children to form bonds with caring adults. They have been shown to reduce some risks for delinquency if the mentoring relationship lasts for more than one year (Johnston, 2005). As part of a state strategy for crossover youth, a model for a high quality mentoring program could be part of the plan.

Study Limitations

This study used administrative data, which has some well recognized limitations. The risk assessment data were available only for youth whose cases had been processed in the court system. Youth with a maltreatment history who did not have delinquency cases and thus, no assessment information, are missing from the study; information about these youth would have provided important information about the associations among maltreatment, other risk factors, and violent delinquency. The information recorded in the data set included only official reports of behavior and experience. Acts of violence may be underreported. Because the data provide only a snapshot at one point in time, the analysis was limited to associations; causal inferences could not be drawn. Also absent from the analysis was information on the timing and duration of the maltreatment and their association with violence. Finally, over the last decade research has demonstrated the importance of recognizing the role of other violent victimization experiences in a youth’s own propensity toward violence. Witnessing acts of violence in the home between domestic partners and being the victim of violence in the community, for example, may increase the risk for committing violent acts (Moylan, et al., 2010). Such information would enhance the study of how maltreatment and violence are related, but this information was not available for this study. The primary strength of the dataset is that it provides a statewide look at crossover youth using the state’s definitions of maltreatment and violence; in addition, the dataset includes a comprehensive set of risk variables. Consequently, it provides useful information to inform a state strategy for working with crossover youth.


Missouri does have a significant number of court involved juveniles who fit the definition of crossover youth and a significant portion of them have a history of violent delinquency. This study provides evidence that for Missouri’s court involved juveniles, child maltreatment is associated with violent behavior. Risk factors associated with maltreatment are also significantly related to violent delinquency. When viewed in a developmental pathways context, the study results can inform the development of an intervention strategy for crossover youth.

The first step in such a strategy is to consider refining existing assessment tools to improve the state’s ability to respond to crossover youth. While a general indicator of maltreatment was sufficient to conduct this study, specific types of maltreatment should be identified to better understand the developmental experiences of the child for the purpose of intervention. In addition, the response set for maltreatment history should include unreported incidents of maltreatment.

The study results also provide some insights into intervention strategies that might benefit crossover youth. Mental health issues and trauma are common experiences for crossover youth; therefore, interventions should address both. Because maltreatment is associated with parenting, family-centered interventions would also benefit crossover youth. This study indicates that crossover youth are likely to suffer from a constellation of risk factors. Research findings suggest that, rather than targeting just one risk factor for treatment such as substance abuse, a general intervention can be designed to treat a constellation of behaviors (Culhane & Taussig, 2009). In a time of limited resources, a general intervention that is well implemented and continuously evaluated may be the best approach for a statewide response to the needs of crossover youth.

About the Authors

Anne Dannerbeck, Ph.D., is the research manager of the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator. She has conducted numerous studies on Missouri’s youth and the justice system.

Jiahui Yan, Ph.D., was the lead research analyst in the Office of State Courts Administrator at the time of this study. She now works in private business.


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