This prospective longitudinal study investigated the predictive links between multifaceted factors in childhood and short- and long-term behavioral problems for students identified with high-incidence disabilities (learning disabilities and emotional disturbances). An ecological model involving individual, family, and school level factors was used to identify the likelihood of being engaged in acting out in middle childhood, juvenile delinquency in late adolescence, and adult crime in young adulthood. Primary research questions examined (a) the links between disability status and acting out, juvenile delinquency, and adult arrest, (b) the predictive effects of individual, family, and school level factors on later behavior problems, and (c) the moderating effects of ecological factors associated with later behavioral problems.
The primary sample consisted of 1370 economically disadvantaged students from the Chicago Longitudinal Study. Data were collected prospectively from multiple sources (e.g., administrative data, school records, ability test scores, student questionnaires, and teacher and parent surveys) to provide multi-tiered information on early child and family risks (ages 0-5); primary predictors at the individual, family, and school levels (grades 1-6; ages 7-12); and behavioral outcome variables at ages 12-13 (acting out), by age 18 (juvenile delinquency), and by age 26 (adult arrest). Probit regression models were used to examine the main effects of disability status, the predictive effects of individual, family, and school level factors, and the potential moderating effects of ecological factors associated with later behavioral problems for unadjusted analyses, covariate-adjusted analyses, and robustness tests.
Findings indicated that disability status was associated with heightened risks of behavioral problems regardless of covariate specification. Specifically, controlling for child and family characteristics, students identified with high-incidence disabilities (grades 1-6) had higher rates of acting out, juvenile delinquency, and adult arrest compared to general education students.
The development of behavioral problems was determined by multifaceted factors. High-incidence disability status and the combination of early child and family risks (gender and family risk index), individual level factors (reading comprehension and classroom adjustment), family level factors (parent involvement and child maltreatment), and school level factors (CPC program participation, magnet school attendance, and school mobility) were associated with behavioral problems. Distinct predictive patterns of factors at the individual, family, and school levels were associated with behavioral problems. Reading comprehension, classroom adjustment, and parent involvement were associated with acting out. Classroom adjustment, child maltreatment, CPC program participation, and magnet school attendance were associated, in the expected direction, with juvenile delinquency. Moreover, classroom adjustment and magnet school attendance were associated with lower rates of adult arrest, whereas school mobility was associated with higher rates of adult arrest.
No significant moderating effects were found to change the direction and/or the magnitude of the associations between individual level factors and behavioral problems. Parent involvement and school mobility did not show interaction effects with individual level factors (i.e., reading comprehension and classroom adjustment) on behavioral problems. Findings did not support the hypotheses that the relationships between individual level factors and behavioral problems would vary by the level of parent involvement and/or school mobility.
Improved understanding of the influence of risk and protective factors on behavioral problems helps researchers and practitioners develop and testify effective prevention and intervention practices for at-risk students including students with high-incidence disabilities. The components of the services should focus on various contexts including individual, family, and school to alter and control the developmental liabilities of behavioral problems for students with high-incidence disabilities. Implications for intervention, policy, and future research to address the needs of students with high-incidence disabilities are discussed.
Key words: behavioral problems, high-incidence disabilities, acting out, juvenile delinquency, adult crime, at-risk students.