Volume 3, Issue 2 • Spring 2014

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

The Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) in the Lives of Juvenile Offenders

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

Personal and Anticipated Strain Among Youth: A Longitudinal Analysis of Delinquency

Evaluation of a Program Designed to Promote Positive Police and Youth Interactions

Implications of Self-Reported Levels of Hope in Latino and Latina Youth on Probation

Commentary: Do Youth Mentoring Programs Work? A Review of the Empirical Literature

Implications of Self-Reported Levels of Hope in Latino and Latina Youth on Probation

Jennifer M. Twyford
California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California

Erin Dowdy and Jill D. Sharkey
University of California, Santa Barbara, California

Jennifer M. Twyford, Graduate School of Psychology, California Lutheran University; Erin Dowdy, Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara; and Jill D. Sharkey, Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara.

This research was supported in part by a not-for-profit grant from the University of California, Santa Barbara Humanities and Social Science Research Grant Program Award.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jennifer Twyford, Graduate School of Psychology, California Lutheran University, 2201 Outlet Center Drive, Suite 600, Oxnard, CA 93036. E-mail: jtwyford@callutheran.edu

Keywords: Latino/a, youth on probation, juvenile delinquency, hope, recidivism, positive psychology

Abstract

Juvenile justice researchers and practitioners have focused more attention on studying risk factors for juvenile delinquency than on the positive psychological variables that may serve as potential protective factors for at-risk youth. To further understand the role of protective factors associated with desisting from delinquency, this study investigated the presence of self-reported hope within a sample of Latino/a youth on probation (N = 153) and the association of hope with risk for recidivism. Levels of hope were consistent between males and females. Latino/a youth on probation have significantly lower levels of self-reported hope than each of 5 diverse samples of youth from previously published studies. Results also reveal a moderately low correlation between hope and risk for recidivism. Implications for theory, research, and applied practice are discussed.

Introduction

Research on resilience suggests that individuals can and often do succeed despite significant disadvantages (Masten, 2001). Although social science disciplines have historically focused on prevention and intervention efforts related to traits and characteristics of mental illness, there has been a paradigm shift toward focusing on resilience (Richardson, 2002). The field of juvenile justice, however, largely continues to focus on mental illness, with numerous investigations studying risk factors for juvenile delinquency, antisocial personality disorder, and other mental disorders. To date, few investigations have examined the influence of protective factors for youth on probation despite the potential for targeted interventions (Kazemian, 2007). This study seeks to fill this gap in the juvenile justice literature by offering a preliminary investigation into hope, a possible protective factor, in a sample of Latino/a youth on probation.

Hope is characterized as a cognitive-motivational construct that includes a set of beliefs in one’s own strength to achieve goals and overcome obstacles. Hope comprises three major components: goals, pathways, and agency (Snyder et al., 1997). Goal-directed thinking is the ability to conceptualize short- or long-term goals with variable probability and importance for attainment (e.g., “I will get an A in math”). Pathways thinking refers to the specific strategies generated through internal speech to achieve a goal (e.g., “I can think of many ways to get out of a jam”; Snyder et al., 1991). Agency thinking refers to the sustaining motivation to achieve conceptualized goals (e.g., “I am not going to be stopped”; Snyder et al., 1997). Individuals with high levels of hope exhibit goal-directed thinking, pathways thinking, and agency thinking, which includes motivation, a sense of self-efficacy, and a plan to achieve their goals (Snyder, Lopez, Shorey, Rand, & Feldman, 2003).

Based on resilience theory, increasing interest has been directed toward investigating protective factors, such as hope, which can buffer young people from the undesirable effects of risk factors for delinquency, such as dysfunctional families and low educational achievement (Sourander et al., 2006). Protective factors provide juveniles with the tools that allow them to surmount obstacles or persevere despite the presence of risk factors for delinquency (Seligman et al., 2005). Youth on probation who desist from delinquency do so despite significant risk factors. Although youth on probation tend to share many of the same risk factors at the onset of delinquency, there may be certain protective factors that are related to desistance from delinquency (Kazemian, 2007). Until recently, research on the influence of hope in children and adolescents has been lacking (Lopez, Rose, Robinson, Marques, & Pais-Ribiero, 2009). Scholarship on hope, including goal-directed thinking, pathways thinking, and agency thinking, has focused on investigating whether hope is a stable psychological trait, as opposed to a fluctuating cognitive or emotional state, with mixed results. The few longitudinal studies of hope in adolescents have indicated that over a 1-year period, high levels of hope appeared to be a stable psychological trait (e.g., Valle, Huebner, & Suldo, 2006). Conversely, others have found hope to be malleable within a therapeutic context (Feldman & Dreher, 2012). Investigations of hope across genders have also been mixed. One study found hope was invariant between male and female adolescents (Edwards, Ong, & Lopez, 2007), while another found levels of hope declined in females during adolescence at a significantly steeper rate than it did in their male peers (Heaven & Ciarrochi, 2008). Recent research with children and adolescents reveals hope as a key indicator of psychological strength (Valle et al., 2006). Valle et al. (2006) found high levels of hope serve as a protective factor against internalizing problems. They found adolescents with high levels of hope reported higher levels of life satisfaction and used adaptive coping strategies when faced with significant stressors. These findings highlight the potential importance of hope for youth on probation; provide further insight into target areas for intervention if hope is malleable; and suggest that hope may need to be investigated separately for adolescents by gender.

Although hope has yet to be examined specifically within the juvenile justice population, the inverse of hope, or hopelessness, has been investigated. Hopelessness represents a lack of future orientation, which may cause a juvenile to discount future consequences of his or her behavior and, therefore, may contribute to the likelihood of persistent criminal offending. High rates of comorbidity have been observed between depression, of which hopelessness is a key component, and conduct disorder, which can lead to contact with the legal system (Ryan & Redding, 2004). For example, detainment in a juvenile detention facility resulting from delinquent acts characteristic of conduct disorder exacerbates feelings of hopelessness (Ryan & Redding, 2004). The research explored herein correlating hope among non-juvenile justice involved adolescents with positive outcomes (e.g., Valle et al., 2006) and hopelessness with juvenile delinquency (e.g., Ryan & Redding, 2004) indicates the possibility of a positive relation between hope, a cognitive-motivational trait, and desistance from delinquent behavior among both females and males. Since hope shows promise for predicting desistance from juvenile delinquency, determining whether hope might act as a protective factor requires further investigation.

The Current Study

As researchers begin to examine positive psychological variables, such as hope, as potential protective factors against persistent youthful offending, it is important to consider differences in risk factors across genders and ethnicities. Gender differences in risk and protective factors for delinquency have been established (e.g., Hartman, Turner, Daigle, Exum, & Cullen, 2009). For example, repeated physical aggression toward children has been found to increase the risk of juvenile delinquency among boys, but not girls (Broidy et al., 2003). In addition, females involved in the juvenile justice system were found to have higher rates of symptoms of mental illness and, in particular, higher rates of internalizing symptoms (e.g., anxiety and depression) than their male counterparts, who were found to have higher rates of externalizing symptoms (e.g., aggression and agitation; Cauffman, Lexcen, Goldweber, Shulman, & Grisso, 2007).

Less is known about the cumulative effects of protective factors on the likelihood of juvenile offending, and research focused on female juvenile offenders is particularly scarce (Tracy, Kempf-Leonard, & Abramoske-James, 2009). Research specifically focused on Latino/a youth on probation is also scarce, despite recognition that the Latino/a1 community in the United States is one of the fastest growing populations in the country (Ennis, Ríos-Vargas, & Albert, 2011). Research focused on Latinos/as is particularly needed due to the disproportionate representation of minority youth in the juvenile justice system, despite evidence that they may not be involved in a greater number of crimes (Huizinga et al., 2007).

1 The term Latino/a has often been used interchangeably with Hispanic in the literature to describe approximately the same set of people, although they have different sociopolitical origins. However, Latino/a is preferred as more inclusive and politically progressive (Comas-Díaz, 2001; Santiago-Rivera, Arredondo, & Gallardo-Cooper, 2002). Thus, we use the term Latino/a.

When compared to their African American and White peers, Latino/a youth on probation are at risk for poorer educational outcomes (Larson, Mehan, & Rumburger, 1998), less mental health service utilization (Rawal, Romansky, Jenuwine, & Lyons, 2004), and more family problems, all of which are risk factors for continued offending (Rivaux, Springer, Bohman, Wagner, & Gil, 2006). Although researchers have demonstrated racial and ethnic differences in risk factors for delinquency and treatment response (e.g., Rivaux et al., 2006), there is a lack of evidence to clarify which populations of youth on probation will respond most favorably to particular juvenile justice interventions (Wagner, 2003). Examining factors potentially associated with desistance from delinquency and recidivism, such as hope, may be particularly useful for Latino/a youth on probation, who have historically experienced poor outcomes associated with delinquency. Hope may be a particularly salient asset for Latino/a youth because they encounter unique obstacles compared with their White and African American peers, such as development of a positive bicultural identity (Phinney & Devich-Navarro, 1997) and related stressors such as those related to immigration status.

In this study, we (a) investigated levels of hope among Latino/a youth on probation by gender, (b) compared levels of hope between male and female youth on probation and previously published diverse samples of nondelinquent youth, and (c) related hope to risk for recidivism. These three analyses were selected to better understand hope as an individual-level protective factor for delinquency and to advance the development of theories and interventions related to youths’ desistance from delinquency.

Method

Participants

We recruited a total of 189 participants for this study, nearly 25% of the approximately 800 youth who were in contact with the participating juvenile probation system when they were eligible for study inclusion. For the purposes of this study, only juvenile Latinos/as were retained as participants, based on demographic information obtained from probation records. The final sample consisted of 153 Latino/a youth on formal probation (82% of the original sample; male = 132, 85.2%) with a mean age of 15.82 years (SD = 1.35). The sample represented a heterogeneous offending history: 32.3% (n = 50) had no prior adjudications and the current offense represented the first contact with the juvenile probation department; 67.7% (n = 105) had a history of prior adjudications, with a mean of 3.22 (SD = 3.59) prior adjudications.

Measures

Children’s Hope Scale. Youth participating in this study used the Children’s Hope Scale (CHS; Snyder et al., 1997) a self-report measure of hope. The CHS contains six items using a 6-point Likert scale (1 = none of the time and 6 = all of the time). The six items alternate between subscales with three pathways-thinking items (e.g., “When I am having a problem, I can come up with lots of ways to solve it”) and three agency-thinking items (e.g., “I think I am doing pretty well”). With respect to the scale’s internal reliability, alpha coefficients have ranged from a median of 0.77 to 0.88 across studies (Gilman & Huebner, 2006; Snyder et al., 1997; Valle, Huebner, & Saldo, 2004). In the sample for this study, the CHS demonstrated adequate evidence of internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.79). Evidence of construct validity for the CHS is shown through positive correlations with other measures of well-being in a Mexican American population of youth, including Life Satisfaction (r = 0.44, p < .01), Support-Family (r = 0.28, p < .01), Support-Friends (r = 0.32, p < .01), Positive Affect (r = 0.49, p < .01), and Optimism (r = 0.41, p < .01) (Edwards et al., 2007).

Santa Barbara Assets and Risks Assessment. The Santa Barbara Assets and Risks Assessment (SB ARA; O’Brien, Jimerson, Saxton, Furlong, & Sia, 2001) was administered to study participants to measure risk for recidivism. It consists of 56 indicators in 12 domains. The SB ARA is a semi–structured interview protocol that is completed by a professional trained in its use and is based on data compiled from a variety of available sources (see Sharkey, 2003). The assessor rates each item on a 5-point, closed interval continuum (1 = strong asset to 5 = strong risk). The assessment is conducted when the youth enters probation and produces a risk score, which helps to determine the appropriate level of probation intervention and supervision based on probability for recidivism (see Sharkey, 2003, for more detailed scoring information). Preliminary examination has demonstrated that the SB ARA has adequate reliability (inter-rater r > 0.85, α = 0.86) and convergent validity (Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale, r = -0.55, p < .01; Ohio Youth Problem Severity scale, r = 0.40, p < .01; and the Orange County Risk Assessment, r = 0.72, p < .01 (Jimerson, Sharkey, O’Brien, & Furlong, 2004).

Procedures

We recruited participants through a central California county juvenile probation department. Over a period of 6 months, youth were notified of the study and asked to participate by their juvenile deputy probation officer (DPO) upon entry into the juvenile justice system, or while being detained by the juvenile justice system during the study period. DPOs offered participation to all juvenile probationers. A variety of self-report measures (including the CHS) and letters of informed parental consent and participant assent were provided in a “take home” packet to families upon entering probation. Alternatively, participants were asked to voluntarily participate in the study by a DPO and authorized by their guardians during their detainment. Completed forms were returned to DPOs and researchers at regular intervals for data entry. The questionnaires were coded with each juvenile’s personal identification number (PIN) so they could be matched with demographic and risk for recidivism data. Following recruitment, researchers received de-identified demographic and risk for recidivism data (SB ARA) from the probation department, which was matched by PIN. All procedures were approved by administrators of the county juvenile probation department and by the researchers’ institutional review board.

The researchers selected 5 samples from previously published studies for mean group comparisons of hope against the current sample of youth on probation. The first comparison group was a normative sample of 699 adolescents ages 10 to 18 years (M age = 13.74, SD = 1.81) from three public middle schools and two public high schools from a rural school district in a southeastern state described by Valle et al. (2004). The second comparison sample was of 135 English-speaking Mexican American youth (M age = 14.22, SD = 1.06; female = 54%) from California, Kansas, and Texas (Edwards et al., 2007). The third comparison group was an ethnically heterogeneous group of 91 children (age range 9 to 17 years, female = 47%) with diagnosed arthritis, sickle cell anemia, and cancer (Snyder et al., 1997). The fourth comparison was a clinical sample from Snyder et al. (1997) of 143 youth who were, or had been, under treatment for cancer (age range 8 to 16 years, female = 51%). The fifth and final comparison sample was reported by Snyder and colleagues (1997) and represents an ethnically heterogeneous clinical sample of 170 boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Data Analyses

A series of separately conducted independent sample t-tests compared group means on the total scores from the CHS obtained from a sample of Latino/a youth on probation to previously published samples. We excluded missing data through listwise deletion. To increase statistical power and reduce the rate of Type I error, we performed a Bonferroni adjustment based on the number of comparisons made for each measure (CHS α = .05 / 7 = .007). We calculated bivariate Pearson product moment correlations to determine the relation between hope and risk for future recidivism. We performed all data screening required to meet appropriate statistical assumptions for analyses, including skewness, kurtosis, normality, population variance, and independent samples. All assumptions were met adequately and data analyses proceeded as planned.

Results

In the sample of youth on probation with complete self-reported CHS scores and gender data (n = 150; excludes missing gender or hope scale data, n = 5, 3.2%), a one-way ANOVA tested for cross-gender comparisons for hope; males (n = 127) reported a mean of 22.83 (SD = 6.19) and females (n = 23) a mean of 21.30 (SD = 5.93), which is not a statistically significant difference, F(1, 148) = 1.19, p = .276.

The mean scores for hope between Latino/a youth on probation and all 5 previously collected samples of children and adolescents as measured by the CHS were significantly different. The CHS scores from the total sample of Latino/a youth on probation (n = 150), M = 22.59 (SD = 6.15) excluded participants with missing CHS item data (n = 5, 3.2%). Latino/a youth on probation in the current sample reported significantly lower levels of hope than youth in all 5 of the comparison samples. See Table 1 for results.

Table 1. Results of Mean Comparisons of Latino/a Youth on Probation

Comparison Group Reference n M(SD) CHS M Difference t df

Normative youth

Valle et al., 2004

699

28.26 (5.41)

-5.67
[-6.65, -4.69]

11.36***

847

Mexican American youth

Edwards et al., 2007

135

26.10 (5.77)

-3.51
[4.90, -2.12]

4.95***

283

Youth with serious illness

Snyder et al., 1997

91

25.39 (5.05)

-2.80
[-4.31, -1.29]

3.66***

239

Youth with cancer

Snyder et al., 1997

143

25.84 (5.01)

-3.25
[-4.54, 1.96]

4.95***

291

Boys with ADHD

Snyder et al., 1997

170

25.49 (3.63)

2.90
[-4.00, -1.80]

5.21***

318

Note. *** = p < .001. The M Difference refers to the difference of self-reported CHS M scores in the current study sample of Latino/a youth on probation and the comparison group. Below the CHS M difference, the 95% CI is reported in brackets.

To determine whether hope is related to risk prediction scores for Latino/a youth on probation, we performed a bivariate Pearson product moment correlation. Results demonstrated a significant but moderately low inverse correlation between CHS scores and SB ARA total risk for recidivism scores, r(141) = -.24, p = .005. Results suggested that as hope increases, risk for recidivism decreased.

Discussion

A shift in the social science research agenda documents the importance of identifying protective factors associated with resilience. However, there is a dearth of juvenile justice research on the influence of positive psychological traits in youth on probation. In this study, we attempt to address this gap by investigating the presence of hope in a sample of Latino/a youth on probation and how such traits may relate to desistance from recidivism.

Our sample of Latino/a youth on probation reports no significant differences in levels of hope by gender, which supports previous research finding nonsignificant gender differences in levels of hope among Mexican American youth (Edwards et al., 2007). However, these findings are inconsistent with Heaven and Ciarrochi’s (2008) investigation demonstrating significantly lower levels of hope among adolescent females over time. Of note, the demographics of Heaven and Ciarrochi’s study participants differed greatly from the current investigation, and the gender differences in hope were related to parenting style. Although gender differences in risk factors for delinquency have been found for youth on probation (Broidy et al., 2003; Hartman et al., 2009), this study suggests there may be no gender differences in levels of hope. Future research is needed to further our understanding of the ways in which hope may differ by gender.

Results of our study demonstrate statistically significantly lower levels of hope in youth on probation than in samples of ethnically diverse, clinical, and normative populations. This finding supports previous research that youth in juvenile detention experience significantly greater levels of hopelessness (Ryan & Redding, 2004), and that both males and females in our study reported significantly more depressive symptoms, than adolescent females in the community (Cauffman et al., 2007). Although these findings indicate that Latino/a youth on probation have lower levels of hope than normative populations, it is surprising to find significantly lower levels when compared to populations of youth experiencing significant stressors, such as serious chronic and life threatening illnesses. This may be the result of differential developmental pathways for hope in youth who experience stressors such as illness, as opposed to those who experience stressors such as legal sanctions. For example, if youth on probation lack a specific goal—that is, if there is no goal to achieve—they will have less goal-directed thinking, as well as less agency and pathways thinking.

Youth on probation, compared to those with serious illness, have experienced numerous risk factors along the developmental pathway that led toward delinquency (e.g., physical abuse and/or neglect). It is likely that youth on probation have also experienced barriers to goal development and hopeful thinking, such as repeatedly reinforced negative emotions and lack of adult modeling of hopeful thinking and positive behavior. Youth diagnosed with a serious illness have not necessarily experienced these same risk factors. In addition, youth with a serious illness may have a specific goal in mind, such as overcoming their illness, thus yielding higher levels of goal-directed thinking, and agency and pathways thinking, to achieve their goal. Longitudinal studies are necessary to test hope trajectories for youth along various developmental pathways and in response to stressors such as arrest, mental illness, or physical illness.

As expected, our study finds that hope and risk for recidivism are significantly and inversely related. We find a moderately low correlation between hope and risk for recidivism; that is, the higher the levels of hope at study onset, the lower the score on risk for recidivism. These results are consistent with previous findings that hope may function as an adaptive coping mechanism between stressors and outcomes for adolescents (Valle, Huebner, & Suldo, 2006). Our findings also indicate that levels of hope may help to determine whether youth will persist in or desist from delinquency. Hope may provide psychological strength and motivate youth to pursue more positive developmental pathways.

Implications and Future Directions

Our study’s findings have merit across theoretical, research, and applied domains. Resilience theory can be further developed for youth on probation by applying knowledge that Latino/a youth on probation experience, on average, significantly lower levels of hope when compared to other youth. Theoretical implications also include an improved understanding of protective factors that can inform the development of prevention and intervention models to predict delinquency based on resilience theory. Current individualized assessment practices have not yet begun to investigate or incorporate the role of positive psychological traits, such as hope, in interventions for youth on probation. However, interventions should be based on a thorough understanding of the relation between risk factors, protective factors, the intervention, and the resulting positive outcome (DeMatteo & Marczyk, 2005).

Future research is needed to determine whether policies promoting resilience and prevention of recidivism among Latino/a youth would be more effective if they remain general rather than gender-specific. In addition, future research should continue to explore gender differences with more gender balanced samples of youth on probation, in addition to exploring gender differences and measurement invariance across Latino/a populations and other nationally representative samples. Longitudinal research is needed to determine the feasibility of measuring levels of hope to predict outcomes for youth on probation. Future investigations should examine the relation between levels of hope and both first-time and repeat offenders, as well as the relation between hope and future recidivism for both groups. If hope is significantly related to future recidivism, it may indicate a focus for preventative interventions. Finally, future investigations should consider examining hope in Latino/a youth in relation to their country of origin, ethnic/cultural identity, level of acculturation, and generations or time spent living in the United States.

Our findings suggest that Latino/a youth on probation have significantly lower levels of hope than other youth, which may indicate enhanced risk for continued deleterious outcomes. These youth may benefit from strengths-based approaches designed to develop protective factors such as hope (e.g., Te Riele, 2010). According to Gilman, Dooley, and Florell (2006), youth with low levels of hope may use rigid cognitive strategies that impede their development of strategies to achieve a goal. Perhaps interventions to target such ineffective cognitive strategies could improve outcomes for Latino/a youth on probation (e.g., Feldman & Dreher, 2012). Efforts to increase levels of hope among Latino/a youth may help to prevent the onset of criminality or its continuation in this population.

Limitations

Although this research contributes to our understanding of the role of hope in Latino/a youth on probation, it is important to acknowledge the limitations of this study. First, plausible threats to its internal validity include the disproportionate number of males to females, and the lack of accounting for first-time offenders as opposed to multiple offenders in the sample. Second, as the majority of the sample is derived from a heterogeneous Latino/a population from one geographical region, our findings cannot be generalized to all youth on probation. Third, the SB ARA is a risk assessment instrument designed to predict risk for future recidivism and is not an indicator of actual reoffense or desistance. The SB ARA was administered at intake to Latino/a youth on probation, whereas the CHS was administered at any point during a youth’s probation tenure. Fourth, although hope may be considered a stable trait (Valle et al., 2006), it may also be reactive to recent events (Snyder, 2002), which can affect levels of hope in both positive and negative directions. Therefore, it is possible that recent events that occurred close to the onset of the study, such as detainment in juvenile detention or contact with the juvenile justice system, may have influenced participants’ levels of hope.

Another significant limitation includes the use of a convenience sample based on the willingness of parents and youth to consent to study participation and to return the required forms. A convenience sample of youth held in juvenile detention comprised a large proportion of the respondents. Low compliance by probation officers in the study may also have influenced which youth were recruited. Comparing the risk and protective factors of youth held in custody with youth never held in detention may be also a confounding variable influencing these results.

Conclusion

The current study contributes to research on the presence of self-reported levels of hope in Latino/a youth on probation. The findings support previous research and establish a precedent for investigating hope in particular populations. Perhaps the most important findings are that Latino/a youth on probation demonstrate a significantly lower level of hope than other youth experiencing extreme stressors, and that hope is related to recidivism risk. Therefore, youth on probation who have low levels of hope may be at greater risk for future delinquent activities than youth who have high levels of hope. Future investigations are needed to determine the importance of cognitive motivational traits, such as hope, in risk assessment for future recidivism and prevention of youth delinquency.

About the Authors

Jennifer Twyford, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Psychology, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California.

Erin Dowdy, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara.

Jill D. Sharkey, PhD, is a full-time faculty member and coordinator of the school psychology program, in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara.

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