Explaining Homeless Youths’ Criminal Justice Interactions: Childhood Trauma or Surviving Life on the Streets?



Jamie Rae Yoder, Kimberly Bender, Sanna J. Thompson, Kristin M. Ferguson, Badiah Haffejee

Community Mental Health Journal

February 2014, Volume 50, Issue 2, pp 135-144






Homeless youth are at increased risk for involvement in the criminal justice system. This study investigated childhood trauma as a risk factor for arrest or jail among a sample of youth seeking services at drop in, shelter, and transitional housing settings, while controlling for more established risk factors including: substance use, peer deviance, and engagement in survival behaviors. Standardized and researcher developed measures collected quantitative data through face-to-face interviews with youth (N = 202). Two sequential logic regression models identified significant predictors of arrest and jail, with a particular interest in the effects of childhood maltreatment. Youth with a history of physical abuse were nearly twice as likely to be arrested and to be jailed compared to non-abused youth, controlling for the significant influence of drug use and survival behaviors. These findings suggest the need for trauma screening and trauma-informed services for homeless youth at risk of illegal behavior.