Graduation Year

2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Criminology

Major Professor

Wesley Jennings, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ojmarrh Mitchell, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Joshua Cochran, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Wilson Palacios, Ph.D.

Keywords

abuse, delinquency, juveniles, maltreatment

Abstract

Adverse childhood experiences can lead to a number of harmful outcomes throughout an individual’s life, ranging from medical problems to criminal behavior. These traumatic experiences, comprised of different forms of maltreatment and dysfunctional household environments, can affect the development of a child in a variety of different ways. The multitude of developmental changes can produce compounding harmful effects on the child’s life and lead to acutely maladaptive outcomes. Under the perspective of developmental psychopathology, the ever-changing biological, psychological, and social dynamics of children who experience trauma can contribute to deficiencies in all aspects of their subsequent development. Each of these developmental changes can lead to problem behaviors during adolescence and further progress the youth down a path toward both externalized and internalized violent behavior.

In this study of youth who came in contact with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the consequences of childhood trauma in the development of juvenile delinquents are examined. This data allowed for the calculation of each child’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) score (Felitti et al., 1998). Using a generalized structural equation model, the effects of ACE scores are estimated on several aspects of each child’s personality development, adolescent problem behaviors, and violent outcomes. Specifically, the model evaluates both the direct and indirect effects of the culmination of adverse childhood experiences on the initiation of externalized violence (serious, violent, chronic delinquency) and internalized violence (suicidal behavior), as mediated through the development of personality characteristics (such as aggression and impulsivity) and adolescent problem behaviors (such as the imitation of deviant peers, school failure and dropout, substance abuse problems, and symptoms of mental illness). This study aims to contribute to the formation of a more complete understanding of the role of childhood trauma in the development of these two types of violent behaviors to improve our assessment and treatment of children who suffer from early-life trauma.

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