Examining the Mediating Effect of Parental Attachment Between Child Maltreatment and Juvenile Delinquency



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The link between child maltreatment and juvenile delinquency has garnered widespread attention from scholars, practitioners, and policymakers. Despite the overwhelming number of studies establishing their association through various criminological frameworks, the complex mechanisms that operate between this link are unclear. Although it is known that maltreatment is most often perpetrated at the hands of a child’s natural or parental caregivers, studies have failed to examine a true mediation (i.e., testing both direct and indirect effects) of parental attachment between the maltreatment-delinquency link. This thesis addresses this gap in the maltreatment and delinquency literature by answering the following research questions: (1) Do youth who experience multiple types of child maltreatment have higher odds of engaging in juvenile delinquency? (2) Do youth who experience multiple types of child maltreatment have higher odds of having weaker attachment to their parents? (3) Do youth who report weaker attachment to their parents have higher odds of engaging in juvenile delinquency? (4) Does parental attachment mediate the relationship between child maltreatment and juvenile delinquency? Relying on secondary data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, this thesis utilizes a nationally representative sample of 13,570 adolescents to examine the relations between child maltreatment, parental attachment, and subsequent delinquency across three separate waves. Reflecting prior research, experiencing multiple types of maltreatment significantly increased adolescents’ likelihood of engaging in delinquency. Additionally, the significant negative relationship between maltreatment and maternal attachment suggested that maternal caregivers may hold a protective role in combatting maltreatment-induced trauma, warranting further investigation. While the findings did not show that maternal or paternal attachment mediation exists between maltreatment and delinquency, they show that the quality of paternal relationships did. Theoretical, practical, and policy implications are discussed, followed by limitations and suggestions for future research.



Path Analysis; United States