University of Missouri - Columbia.
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Posted 09.08.05

Violent Juvenile Offenders Benefit from 'Multisystemic Therapy,' MU Study Finds

COLUMBIA, MO -- Research shows that serious juvenile offenders are at high risk for mental and physical health problems, substance abuse, low educational and vocational achievement, and interpersonal difficulties. The type of treatment these individuals receive in therapy can play a significant role in determining whether they will improve their lives. In the longest follow-up study to date of a multisystemic therapy (MST) clinical trial, a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher found that MST is effective in reducing criminal activity among serious and violent juvenile offenders.

According to Charles Borduin, MU psychology professor, who conducted the study along with Cindy Schaeffer of the University of Maryland, MST directly addresses intrapersonal and systemic (i.e. family, peer, school) factors that are known to be associated with adolescent antisocial behavior. MST interventions are individualized, highly flexible and are usually held in the family's home or in community locations.

Related Links

Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology

"The overriding goal of MST is to empower parents with the skills and resources needed to independently address the inevitable difficulties that arise in raising adolescents," Borduin said.

The study, part of the Missouri Delinquency Project, examined long-term criminal activity for 176 serious and violent juvenile offenders who participated in an MST trial an average of 13.7 years earlier. The initial project included all families in which the youth had at least two arrests and was currently living with a parent figure. The youths involved in the study averaged 14.5 years of age. They received either MST or individual therapy (IT), which focuses more on therapists offering support, feedback and encouragement for behavior change. The follow-up process focused on searching state arrest and incarceration records.

Results showed that MST participants had significantly lower rates of recurrence at follow-up than did the IT participants, 50 percent to 81 percent. IT participants were 4.25 times more likely to be rearrested, 2.57 times more likely to have an arrest for a violent offense, 2.63 times more likely to have an arrest for a nonviolent offense, and 3.33 times more likely to have an arrest for a drug offense. In other words, MST participants were arrested again half as often and were sentenced to less than half as many days of incarcerations.

An important point Borduin notes is that a separate study examining the cost effectiveness with this same sample indicated a cost savings of at least $50,000 for each youth receiving MST. These savings compare favorably to MST program costs of $4,000 to $6,000 per youth, he said.

"In addition to improved life outcomes for youths and families receiving MST, societal benefits of MST include reduced incidents of crime in communities and enormous public savings in incarceration and probation costs," Borduin said.

Borduin's study recently was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.



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