Delinquency in youth is a significant public health concern for individuals who experienced adversity and complex trauma as children. The present study explored the longitudinal associations between adverse child experiences and future engagement in delinquent behavior.
Using a sample of 1,245 foster youth who are aging out of the child welfare system, mediation, moderation, and moderated mediation analysis was used to test the mechanistic role of post-traumatic stress symptoms and the moderating role of sexual identity and positive future expectations on engagement in delinquent behavior.
Results showed a positive and significant association between adverse child experiences and engagement in delinquent behavior. Post-traumatic stress symptoms partially mediated the ACEs-delinquency relationship. In addition, sexual minority youth and youth who were less optimistic about the future, but who experienced more ACEs, were at risk for heightened levels of post-traumatic stress.
Interventions that promote positive future outlooks may minimize the psychological sequelae of early child adversity and delinquent behavior particularly when tailored to the needs of sexual minority youth.