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Strength-based models cannot fully address direct links to future offending in detained girls

Forensic Training AcademyDetained girls’ low quality of life is indirectly linked to future offending through increased mental health problems. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

lhbFeatured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2016, Vol. 40, No. 3, 285-294

Quality of Life in Relation to Future Mental Health Problems and Offending: Testing the Good Lives Model Among Detained Girls

Authors

Lore Van Damme, Ghent University
Machteld Hoeve, University of Amsterdam
Robert Vermeiren, Curium-Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands
Wouter Vanderplasschen, Ghent University
Olivier F. Colins, Curium-Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, the Netherlands

Abstract

Detained girls bear high levels of criminal behavior and mental health problems that are likely to persist into young adulthood. Research with these girls began primarily from a risk management perspective, whereas a strength-based empowering perspective may increase knowledge that could improve rehabilitation. This study examines detained girls’ quality of life (QoL) in relation to future mental health problems and offending, thereby testing the strength-based good lives model of offender rehabilitation (GLM). At baseline, 95 girls ( = 16.25) completed the World Health Organization QoL instrument to assess their QoL prior to detention in the domains of physical health, psychological health, social relationships, and environment. Six months after discharge, mental health problems and offending were assessed by self-report measures. Structural equation models were conducted to test GLM’s proposed (in)direct pathways from QoL (via mental health problems) toward offending Although we could not find support for GLM’s direct negative pathway from QoL to offending, our findings did provide support for GLM’s indirect negative pathway via mental health problems to future offending. In addition, we found a direct positive pathway from detained girls’ satisfaction with their social relationships to offending after discharge. The current findings support the potential relevance of addressing detained girls’ QoL, pursuing the development of new skills, and supporting them to build constructive social contacts. Our findings, however, also show that clinicians should not only focus on strengths but that detecting and modifying mental health problems in this vulnerable group is also warranted.

Keywords

good lives model, psychopathology, young offenders, female adolescents, follow-up studies

Summary of the Research

“Many detained female adolescents are involved in severe criminal behavior, such as robbery and physical violence. In addition, these girls bear high levels of mental health problems, with up to 95% having at least one psychiatric disorder” (p. 285). “It is not well understood why some girls recover from mental health problems or desist from future criminal involvement whereas others do not. This could arise in part because the majority of prospective studies with detained girls has focused on risk factors associated with the persistence of mental health and adjustment problems. These studies, of course, are relevant from a risk management perspective as they help clinicians to develop and provide interventions that are mainly oriented toward solving problems and reducing risk factors. Nevertheless, research that adds the enhancement of one’s quality of life (QoL) to the management of risk is urgently warranted. Studies that apply this strength-based perspective may inform clinicians, for example, how to support offenders in building skills and developing more fulfilling and socially acceptable lifestyles, which is thought to be linked to the reduction of risk. The present study was designed to fill this void by addressing detained girls’ QoL in relation to future mental health problems and offending, thereby testing the strength-based good lives model of offender rehabilitation (GLM)” (pp. 285-286).

“The GLM offers a rehabilitation framework for adult offenders. It forms a theoretical framework to explain relapse and reoffending, introducing QoL as a central concept. According to the GLM, humans want to realize a range of primary goods or basic needs  (e.g., inner peace and relatedness), and achieving these needs contributes to their QoL. The GLM consists of two main assumptions:  that mental health problems are obstacles that hamper the achievement of a good QoL (first GLM assumption) and that individuals who are confronted with a poor QoL may become involved in antisocial activities through either a direct or indirect pathway (second GLM assumption). The direct pathway implies that someone actively commits antisocial behaviors as an alternative strategy to reach a satisfying QoL (e.g., stealing instead of working to obtain material well-being). The indirect pathway implies that an individual’s poor QoL generates a gradual accumulation of negative experiences and deteriorating circumstances that trigger a chain of mental health problems, such as depressed feelings, often followed by alcohol/drug use. Ultimately, he or she loses control of the situation and becomes involved in criminal activities” (p. 286).

“The GLM has been applied to a broad range of offender populations yet only rarely to detained adolescents” (p. 286). “The present study [tested] GLM’s second assumption in a sample of detained girls, focusing on QoL prior to detention in relation to mental health problems and offending 6 months after discharge. We included multiple domains of QoL (i.e., physical health, psychological health, social relationships, environment), different types of mental health problems (i.e., anger-irritability, alcohol/drug use, depression-anxiety), and different types of offenses (i.e., nonviolent and violent)” (p. 286). “The participants were 95 girls who had been placed in an all-girl youth detention center (YDC) in Flanders, Belgium. Girls are referred to this YDC by a juvenile judge when charged with a criminal offense or because of an urgent problematic educational situation” (p. 287).

“Overall, girls with the lowest QoL scores had the highest rates of mental health problems after discharge, but were not at increased risk for future offending.  Although we could not find support for a direct negative pathway from QoL to offending, our findings did provide support for the indirect pathway via mental health problems to offending. This indicates that a low QoL increases the risk of mental health problems, which in turn increases the risk on offending. In addition, our findings revealed a direct positive pathway from detained girls’ satisfaction with their social relationships to offending after discharge. This suggests that the more girls are satisfied with their social relationships the more likely they are to reoffend” (p. 291).

“The results of the current study clearly support the presence of an indirect route to offending, as previously found among adult offenders . A low QoL placed detained girls at risk for mental health problems, which placed them at risk for offending subsequently. Detained girls’ QoL and mental health problems, together with the selected sociodemographic variables, could explain the vast majority of the variance in offending after discharge” (p. 291).

“The results of the current study did not support a direct negative effect of detained girls’ QoL on offending. This contrasts with the scant empirical research among adult offenders suggesting that a low QoL is a risk factor for recidivism” (p. 291).

“The present study found a direct positive effect of detained girls’ satisfaction with their social relationships on offending after discharge. Although this finding does not dovetail with prior work in adult offenders, it indicates that the more girls are satisfied with their social relationships the more likely they are to reoffend. The exclusive direct impact of the social domain of QoL on girls’ offending supports a multidimensional conceptualization of QoL, and converges with the GLM assertion that individuals attach different priorities to the different domains of QoL” (p.292).

Translating Research into Practice

“The prominent appearance of an indirect route from QoL via mental health problems to offending among detained girls yields some interesting insights pertaining to the rehabilitation of this particularly vulnerable group. Recent studies in samples of juvenile offenders have recommended a strength-based empowering approach, over a more traditional, problem-oriented one. For example, starting off by exploring the youngsters’ own perception of QoL, instead of immediately focusing on specific problems, has been shown to be a less threatening and more motivating approach. The current findings acknowledge the potential relevance of addressing one’s QoL. However, they strongly point to a pivotal role of mental health problems in the pathways toward offending, a finding that argues against an exclusive focus on strengths and empowerment. Put differently, and regardless of the importance of a strength-based approach, our findings suggest the need for appropriate methods for detecting and modifying mental health problems in this vulnerable group” (p.291).

“The lack of a direct negative effect in our sample might be because the GLM is developed as a rehabilitation framework for adult, not adolescent, offenders. Although offending among adults might be primarily guided by their own unmet needs and a poor QoL, offending among adolescents might also be to external influences, such as affiliation with deviant peers. Another explanation is that the basic needs of adolescents are generally served by their surroundings, and that these needs therefore may not be the most prominent force guiding one’s behavior.  Yet, when entering adulthood and becoming more and more financially and socially responsible to fulfill their own basic needs, some adolescents may eventually become actively involved in criminality to reach a satisfying QoL. A strength-based empowering approach might pursue the development of new skills and abilities, thereby providing adolescents with desirable and socially acceptable means to obtain a good QoL before they reach adulthood. However, the highly structured and almost artificial nature of detention forms a major challenge, as it restricts the youngsters’ autonomy and hampers the possibility to develop and practice new skills” (p.292).

The “findings regarding the social domain of QoL yield implications for both research and practice. In line with prior work, we suggest that future research regarding the GLM should pay particular attention to negative peer group affiliation and gang membership as inappropriate ways of satisfying detained minors’ primary goods of relatedness and community/ group involvement. In this respect, a qualitative research approach seems useful: for example, asking youngsters about the priority they assigned to different primary goods at the time of offending, and how they operationalized different primary goods at that time. We suggest treatment to support youngsters in building, strengthening, and extending constructive, instead of destructive, social contacts, by offering peer-helping programs, such as EQUIP. In the EQUIP program detained juveniles help each other to decrease self-serving cognitive distortions and to strengthen their moral and social skills” (p. 292).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“The indirect pathway from detained girls’ QoL to offending was found for the overall latent QoL variable, as well as for each domain of QoL separately. Only exceptionally  (i.e., for the QoL domain of physical health) a reversed indirect effect was revealed, which suggests that mental health problems are more likely to result in offending than vice versa, when considering the indirect GLM route” (p. 291).

Join the Discussion

As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

Authored by Megan Banford

Megan Banford is a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. She graduated in 2013 from Simon Fraser University with a B.A. (Honors) and hopes complete a PhD in clinical forensic psychology. Her main research interests include violence risk assessment and management, juvenile offenders and public policy.

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