Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences and Juvenile Court Outcomes: The Moderating Role of Race and Ethnicity

AuthorMichael T. Baglivio,Ashley Lockwood,Jennifer H. Peck,Kevin T. Wolff
Date01 April 2022
Published date01 April 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
2022, Vol. 20(2) 83112
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/15412040211063437
Understanding Adverse
Childhood Experiences and
Juvenile Court Outcomes: The
Moderating Role of Race and
Ashley Lockwood
, Jennifer H. Peck
, Kevin T. Wolff
, and
Michael T. Baglivio
Youth involved in the juvenile justice system have enhanced traumatic exposure including abuse,
neglect, and household dysfunction compared to their non-involved counterparts. While prior
research has conceptualized the role of trauma in predicting juvenile recidivism, the interrelate d
role of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and race/ethnicity in informing juvenile court
processing and outcomes is unaddressed. As such, we examine the moderating role of race/
ethnicity with ACEs across court outcomes (e.g., dismissal, diversion, probation, residential
placement) among juveniles after their f‌irst ever arrest (37.2% Black, 18.3% Hispanic). Higher
ACEs were associated with (1) decreased adjudication likelihood, (2) case dismissal for Black and
Hispanic youth, (3) deeper dispositions versus diversion for Hispanic youth, (4) residential
placement versus diversion for White youth, and (5) residential placement versus probation, with
no racial or ethnic differences. Policy implications and future research surrounding the treatment
of justice-involved youth with childhood traumatic exposure across race/ethnicity are discussed .
adverse childhood experiences, race and ethnicity, court outcomes, diversion, residential
Youth involved in the juvenile justice system have a higher exposure to child maltreatment and
abuse compared to their nonjustice-involved counterparts (Dierkhising et al., 2013;Graf et al.,
2021;Trulson et al., 2016), with many of these youth experiencing at least one or multiple forms of
Department of Criminal Justice, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, NY, USA
Youth Opportunity Investments, LLC, St. Petersburg, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jennifer H. Peck, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Central Florida, 12805 Pegasus Drive, Orlando, FL
32816, USA.
Email: Jennifer.Peck@ucf.edu
traumatic exposure prior to the age of 18 years old (Abram et al., 2004). Even though recent
literature has pointed to abuse as the beginning of a pipeline for girls into the dependency and
delinquency systems (Saar et al., 2015), little work has been done to generalize this f‌inding across
additional demographic characteristics (i.e., race/ethnicity) present in the juvenile justice system
(c.f., Baglivio & Epps, 2016;Zettler et al., 2018). Child maltreatment, household dysfunction, and
abuse are components of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which is a summary measure
of traumatic experiences that have been linked to both short- and long-term negative health,
behavioral, and justice system outcomes in individuals (Anda et al., 2010;Dube et al., 2006;Felitti
et al., 1998).
While ACEs have been linked to juvenile recidivism (Baglivio et al., 2014a;Craig et al., 2020;
Wolffet al., 2015;Wolff& Baglivio, 2017), serious offending (homicide, sexual, serious property/
person) (Bonner et al., 2020) are common among serious, violent, and chronic (SVC) juveniles
involved in the justice system (Fox et al., 2015) and are related to youth receiving a disposition of
residential placement by age 18 (Zettler et al., 2018); far less research has holistically examined
juvenile court processing for other youth in relation to front-end court outcomes. Specif‌ically,
assessing if earlier court processing decisions (e.g., dismissal, diversion) along with other out-
comes (e.g., probation, commitment dispositions) differ based on a youths race and ethnicity is
essential in building a framework for fully understanding the pervasive role of trauma (i.e., ACEs)
within the juvenile justice system and juvenile courts.
Previous literature points to the presence of racial/ethnic disparities at various stages of the
juvenile justice system (Peck & Jennings, 2016;Voisin et al., 2017) and emphasizes unique
variation in trauma experiences of youth from different races and ethnicities (Maguire-Jack et al.,
2020). With this in mind, developing a strong conceptual framework for understanding trauma and
race/ethnicity in conjunction with one another is important in designing effective trauma-informed
treatment and services for those in the juvenile justice system. As such, the purpose of the current
study is to examine the relationship between traumatic exposure and multiple juvenile court
outcomes, and whether a juveniles race/ethnicity conditions this association.
It may be that a relationship between ACEs, race/ethnicity, and juvenile court outcomes exists,
as disparate experiences for youth belonging to a minority status occur at other points throughout
the juvenile justice system (e.g., detention, intake, see Fader et al., 2014;Peck & Jennings, 2016)
and as traumatic experiences for youth differ between races/ethnicities (Baglivio et al., 2017;
Maguire-Jack et al., 2020). However, we are not aware of a study that has considered the link
between trauma and early juvenile court processing outcomes, such as dismissal or diversion. If
this link is revealed, the f‌indings may encourage the inclusion of additional screening tools when
assessing youth risk levels, case processing, and treatment plans. If there is a connection between
ACEs, race/ethnicity, and juvenile court outcomes, the addition of ACE measures into more
screening tools could be of benef‌it when determining a youths risk for recidivism and reha-
bilitation options. Leveraging an 18-month statewide sample of 8416 youth in Florida for whom
juvenile justice involvement was their f‌irst arrest, the current study examines the extent to which
cumulative ACE exposures are related to adjudication, case dismissal, and disposition type (e.g.,
diversion, probation, residential placement), and whether race/ethnicity moderates any ACE-court
outcome relationships.
Literature Review
Adverse Childhood Experiences and Justice-Involved Youth
The last decade has brought about an increase in empirical inquiries surrounding ACEs and their
connection to both adolescent development, more generally, and involvement with antisocial
84 Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 20(2)

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