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Juvenile Court Officials’ Perceptions of Family Dysfunction and Community Characteristics in Juvenile Court Decision-Making Processes. Nancy Rodriguez School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Arizona State University Youth Violence Prevention Conference University of Missouri-St. Louis

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Juvenile Court Officials’ Perceptions of Family Dysfunction and Community Characteristics in Juvenile Court Decision-Making Processes

Nancy Rodriguez

School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Arizona State University

Youth Violence Prevention Conference

University of Missouri-St. Louis

April 8, 2010

  • Characteristics of Children in the U.S.
  • Family Status, Disadvantage, and Juvenile Court Outcomes
  • Study Findings
  • Implications for Research and Practice
population of children in u s
Population of Children in U.S.
  • 73.9 million Children in the United States
    • 25% of the population
  • Racial/Ethnic Diversity of Children
    • Language Spoken at Home

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

children in poverty
Children in Poverty
  • Child Poverty Rate on the Rise
    • In 2007, 18 percentage of children (13.3 million) were living in poverty; up from 16.2 percent (11.6 million) in 2000.
    • Rate higher for younger children
    • Rate higher for Black and Hispanic children

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

family structure in the u s
Family Structure in the U.S.
  • The Decline of the Two-parent Household
    • The percentage of children under age 18 living with two married parents fell from 77 percent in 1980 to 68 percent in 2007.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement

percentage of children in poverty by family structure race and hispanic origin
Percentage of Children in Poverty, by Family Structure, Race and Hispanic Origin

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

one parent families
One Parent Families

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

no parent families
No Parent Families

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

family status disadvantage and juvenile justice
Family Status, Disadvantage, and Juvenile Justice
  • How do family situational factors and living in economically disadvantaged areas affect juvenile court outcomes?
    • Parents/guardians as sponsors of youth
      • Capacity (emotional and financial) to assist court with youth intervention
family status disadvantage and juvenile justice1
Family Status, Disadvantage, and Juvenile Justice
  • Family risk factors
    • Low SES, antisocial behavior, broken homes, poor parent-child relationship, family conflict, abuse and neglect
  • Limited resources in community
    • Availability of services (community-based agencies, treatment providers)
    • Role models
economic disadvantage and juvenile justice
Economic Disadvantage and Juvenile Justice
  • Court officials’ perceptions of a “bad neighborhood” (Emerson, 1969)
  • Focus on cross-jurisdictional differences
    • Armstrong & Rodriguez, 2005; Sampson & Laub, 1993; Rodriguez, 2007)
economic disadvantage and juvenile justice1
Economic Disadvantage and Juvenile Justice
  • Families who suffer from economic stain are perceived as “unstable” or “inadequate” (Bortner, 1982:181).
  • Economic disadvantage and race
    • Black lower-class youth (Bishop & Frazier, 1988; Leonard & Sontheimer, 1995; Miller, 1996)
family structure and juvenile court outcomes
Family Structure and Juvenile Court Outcomes
  • Impact of family status (e.g., family structure, quality of care) (Bridges & Steen, 1998; DeJong & Jackson, 1998)
    • Support and the cooperation exhibited by parents are heavily guiding factors in juvenile court decision-making processes (Bortner, 1982).
family structure and juvenile court outcomes1
Family Structure and Juvenile Court Outcomes
  • Perceptions of support and cooperation serve to disadvantage racial/ethnic youth (Bishop & Frazier, 1996)
    • Language and cultural barriers (Portillos, 2006)
  • Single mother families play a more significant role in court outcomes for Whites than Black youth (DeJong & Jackson, 1998; Leiber & Mack, 2003)
    • Expectations versus Reality
areas of inquiry
Areas of Inquiry
  • Living in economically disadvantaged areas
    • “micro-neighborhood context”
  • Limited understanding of family dynamics
    • Reliance on “single-parent homes” versus “two-parent homes” measures
  • Role of family stability
    • Family transitions
    • Residential mobility
study a concentrated disadvantage and juvenile court outcomes
Study AConcentrated Disadvantage and Juvenile Court Outcomes


  • Examine relationship between concentrated disadvantage and five juvenile court outcomes (informal processing, detention, petition filed, judicial dismissal, out-of-home placement)


Rodriguez , N. (in press). The cumulative effect of race and ethnicity in juvenile court outcomes and why preadjudication detention matters. Journal of Research in Crime & Delinquency.

findings from hglm of juvenile court outcomes
Findings from HGLM of Juvenile Court Outcomes
  • Concentrated disadvantage index (+)
    • Detention
    • Correctional confinement
  • Black and Latino/a minority youth (+)
    • Concentrated disadvantage did not mediate the race and ethnicity effects
case file narratives
Case File Narratives
  • “He lives in a very poor, high-risk neighborhood and most of his associates use alcohol and other drugs. He understands that he must work an active program recovery and avoid places that would cause him to relapse.” (Latino Youth)
  • “The juvenile resides in the town homes complex right off [location] and these complexes are in a poor area, filled with drugs, and gangs, and with the juvenile just roaming around there, he is more apt to get into some type of trouble.” (Black Youth)
narrative from case file
Narrative from Case File

“(youth’s mother) reports she will be moving out of her current neighborhood soon, and she hopes this will improve the juvenile’s behavior. The mother appears to work several hours leaving the juvenile unattended with the opportunity to commit more crime.I believe that placing the juvenile on JIPS [intensive probation] would allow (youth) to obtain more victims in the community since he is unsupervised by the mother.” (Latino Youth)

case file narratives1
Case File Narratives
  • “When I met with (youth) on 06-09-02, he stated that his mother had not been able to visit him in detention, due to not having transportation. Mother reportedly has transportation problems and doesn’t always come to see him when expected. This officer is concerned about the mother’s inconsistency.” (Latino Youth)
  • “Mother will not be at court. She does not have transportation. There are seven other children in the home, six which are female. The mother works outside the home and has very little time or energy to deal with her son’s behavior. At his scheduled disposition hearing, commitment will be recommended.” (Black Youth)
study b family status and juvenile court outcomes
Study BFamily Status and Juvenile Court Outcomes


  • Examine relationship between family status and juvenile court outcomes (out-of-home placement)
  • Identify the extent of family and residential instability among juvenile justice involved youth
case files narratives
Case Files Narratives

“The mother seems to be struggling raising several kids in the home. This officer has had limited contact with the family. The home phone has been disconnected. (youth) states that he wants to go back home so that he can get a job and help his mother pay the bills.” (Black Youth)

“The fact that the father is no longer residing in the home has caused a lot of stress on the family. The parents used to argue a lot and that hurt the family but not as much as the father leaving.” (Latino Youth)

narrative from case file1
Narrative from Case File

“The actual parental figure in this case is the grandmother. Grandmother has her hands full caring for the younger of this daughters’ children, especially a child with significant emotional health problems. Grandmother has significant physical health problems of her own … Of those dispositional options available to the Court, recommended will be secure treatment with the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections for a period of six months.” (Black Youth)

narrative from case file2
Narrative from Case File

“Youth is living with foster parents, where she has been for the last two years. She has not lived with her real family since 2000, because her mother was arrested and the court found her mother to be using drugs and an unfit environment for youth. She is currently in a foster home that appears to be somewhat dysfunctional.” (White Youth)

narrative from case file3
Narrative from Case File

“The family shuffled from friend's house to friend's house until they moved into their current apartment at the beginning of August. Because of the constant shuffling, the juvenile didn't complete his work hours or the NCTI class. Because the circumstances were out of the juvenile's control, I would request he be granted an extension.”

[Subsequent court record]: “VIOLATION: The juvenile failed to notify the probation officer that the family moved. This officer went to the apartment on 10-18-02 and it is unoccupied.” (Latino Youth)

narrative from case file4
Narrative from Case File

“After the juvenile’s parents were divorced, the children lived with their father. Later, the children moved back with their mother. The family has been homeless in the past. They lived on the streets and in various shelters. They have also lived in motels. The juvenile was placed into state custody in the past. It is noted that the juvenile states she would prefer to live with another relative or even go back to CPS custody as her and her mother do not get along.” (Black Youth)

family instability and parental incarceration
Family Instability and Parental Incarceration

“The juvenile has been residing with his aunt since before his mother’s murder by his father. Isaac was placed with his aunt, because of the domestic violence issues occurring at the time. Currently, there is also a dependency petition in progress. He was pushing the limits at his aunt’s home, leaving and not coming home for days at a time. He typically would go to a friend’s house and not return.” (Latino Youth)

family instability and parental incarceration1
Family Instability and Parental Incarceration

“Mom has been in and out of prison the majority of the juvenile’s life. Juvenile has spent time in state custody as a result. He has been placed in numerous shelters. He did reside for a short time in New Mexico with grandparents. Mother gave guardianship of the juvenile to a boyfriend while she was in prison, so the juvenile resided with his mother’s boyfriend for some time. The juvenile has since moved back into state custody.” (American Indian Youth)

economic strain associated with parental incarceration
Economic Strain Associated with Parental Incarceration
  • “The father who had a restraining order issued against him for being violent with the family, came back to the homes and is now in jail. The mother and children, at the present time have no money. Mom stated to this officer that she may have to sell her car to provide money to pay her electricity bill.” (White Youth)
  • “Father provides no support to the family, and recently was released from prison.” (Latino Youth)
parental incarceration and potential for rehabilitation
Parental Incarceration and Potential for Rehabilitation

“Her prognosis is guarded due to the severity of family dysfunction and the very limited availability of services.” (Black Youth)

study c the dysfunctional family
Study C. The “Dysfunctional Family”


  • Identify context of family dysfunction among delinquent youth
  • Examine relationship between dysfunction and juvenile court outcomes (out-of-home placement)


Rodriguez, N., Smith, H. & Zatz, M.S. (2009). “Youth is enmeshed in a highly dysfunctional family system”: Exploring the relationship among dysfunctional families, parental incarceration, and juvenile court decision making. Criminology,47(1),177-208.

the dysfunctional family
The “Dysfunctional Family”
  • Family dysfunction as a risk factor in juvenile court processes and outcomes (Emerson, 1969)
    • Financial strain, instability within the family, poor parenting skills, abuse, or criminal involvement by family members
the dysfunctional family1
The “Dysfunctional Family”
  • Family dysfunction scales:
    • FAD-GF (McMaster Family Assessment Device General Functioning Subscale) (Epstein, Baldwin, and Bishop, 1983)
    • Family Functioning Scale (FES) (Moos and Moos, 2002)
  • Variation in definition
interview excerpts
Interview Excerpts
  • “What I see is you have boys and girls from very dysfunctional families. Eighty-five percent of them are no-parent families or one-parent families.” (Probation Officer)
  • “The families are just so dysfunctional. The parents are using themselves. Low class, no money. Twenty kids living in the home. On welfare. Just very dysfunctional.” (Detention Officer)
case file narratives2
Case File Narratives
  • “Youth comes from a very dysfunctional home. There are several children in the family. Several of these children are living in CPS shelters.” (White Youth).
  • “Youth comes from a dysfunctional family. Her mother has been a drug user, her father is currently deported to Mexico (and there are allegations that he has sexually molested his daughters).” (Latina Youth)
narrative from case file5
Narrative from Case File

“It certainly does appear that the home situation, especially as it relates to the extended family, is quite unstable and dysfunctional and has contributed to youth’s serious emotional disturbance. At this time, placement of the juvenile at Black Canyon would protect this juvenile, as well as consequence for her actions.” (Latina Youth).

implications for theory and practice
Implications for Theory and Practice
  • Disadvantage as an Important External Attribute
  • Community Awareness
    • Community-based strategies (e.g., Weed and Seed)
implications for theory and practice1
Implications for Theory and Practice
  • Family Structure and Family Processes
    • Complex Family Systems and Treatment by the Juvenile Justice System
    • Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems (e.g., wraparound services)
    • Blueprint Programs (e.g., FFT, MST)
implications for theory and practice2
Implications for Theory and Practice
  • Residential Instability
    • Children's Well-being
      • School
      • Health
    • Circulation of Information
    • Challenges Associated with Monitoring and Supervision of Youth
implications for theory and practice3
Implications for Theory and Practice
  • Reentry Programs
    • Maintaining Family Ties
    • Team Approach
      • Community and Family Involvement
      • Strong Family Support System
thank you
Thank You

Nancy Rodriguez, Ph.D.

[email protected]