Latinx Youth in First Contact with the Justice System: Trauma and Associated Behavioral Health Needs


This study examines the prevalence of trauma exposure and its association with psychiatric symptoms, substance use, and sexual activity among First-Time Offending, Court-Involved Non-Incarcerated (FTO-CINI) Latinx youth. Latinx youth (N = 181), ages 12–18, were recruited from a family court in the Northeastern region of the United States as part of a longitudinal cohort study of 423 FTO-CINI youth. Baseline data on trauma exposure and symptoms, psychiatric symptoms, substance use (alcohol/marijuana), and sexual activity among the Latinx sample were analyzed by age, gender, and offense type (status versus delinquent). Almost three-quarters of Latinx FTO-CINI youth reported lifetime trauma exposure. Almost half of Latinx youth reported lifetime marijuana use, 30% reported lifetime alcohol use, and 33% reported lifetime sexual activity. Females reported higher rates of internalizing symptoms and greater affect dysregulation. Trauma-exposed youth were more likely than their non-exposed peers to have reported more externalizing symptoms; trauma-exposed females compared to trauma-exposed males reported more severe internalizing symptoms. Latinx FTO-CINI females may have different behavioral health needs than their male counterparts. Court-based screening and assessment practices should attend to the specific behavioral needs of this unique, underserved population.

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    Latinx is used throughout this paper to avoid gender binaries and to be inclusive of gender fluid Latinx youth. Latinx will be used to encompass a heterogeneous population that differs in terms of race, social class, country of origin, and gender identity to name a few [61].


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This study was supported through funding from the following National Institute of Health grants: National Institute on Drug Abuse under grant number R01DA034538 (Tolou-Shams), National Institute of Drug Abuse under grant number R01DA034538-05S1 (Hoskins). NIDA did not have any role in study design; collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, writing the report and the decision to submit the report for publication. Acknowledgements: The authors extend their gratitude to the adolescents and families who participated in this study, the collaborating juvenile court system and staff as well as Peter Bacchetti, PhD (UCSF Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics) for his assistance with data analysis.

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Hoskins, D., Marshall, B.D.L., Koinis-Mitchell, D. et al. Latinx Youth in First Contact with the Justice System: Trauma and Associated Behavioral Health Needs. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev 50, 459–472 (2019).

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  • PTSD
  • Sexual behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Trauma
  • Ethnic minority youth