Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 46, Issue 7, pp 1533–1546 | Cite as

The Longitudinal Association of Relationship Quality and Reoffending Among First-Time Juvenile Offenders and Their Mothers

  • Caitlin CavanaghEmail author
  • Elizabeth Cauffman
Empirical Research


To understand how youth desist from crime after their first arrest, it is necessary to investigate their primary support system: their parents. As such, this study examined the reciprocal effects of justice system contact on the mother–child dyad. Interviews with 317 mothers and their sons from Orange County, CA, Jefferson Parish, LA, and Philadelphia, PA were conducted semiannually over two and a half years. At the beginning of the study, the sons were first-time offenders aged 13–17 and mostly non-White (i.e., 19.2 White, 56.5 Latino, 21.5 Black, and 2.8% another race/ethnicity). The results revealed that a high quality initial mother–son relationship reduces youths’ re-offending over time. Furthermore, as mothers perceived that their sons were offending more, they reported less warmth in their relationships with their sons two and a half years later. Interestingly, youth’s age emerged as a moderator. First, older youth were less likely to engage in reoffending if they had a warm maternal relationship. Second, decreases in relationship warmth associated with re-offending were steeper for younger youth. The findings have implications for juvenile justice policy in terms of improving probationary outcomes for youth offenders, and alleviating the financial and emotional burden on justice system-involved families.


Adolescent development Parent–child relationship Juvenile delinquency 



We are grateful to the many individuals responsible for the data collection and preparation.


The Crossroads Study is supported by funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The Crossroads Mothers Study is supported by UC MEXUS and the American Psychology-Law Society.

Authors’ Contributions

C.C. conceived of the ancillary Crossroads Mothers study, and led its design and coordination. C.C. also performed the statistical analyses relevant to the present manuscript, and drafted the manuscript. E.C. conceived of the main Crossroads study, and led its design and coordination. E.C. also aided in the interpretation of the data after analyses were completed, and helped to draft the manuscript. Both authors have read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

Ethical approval was obtained from the Institutional Review Boards (IRB) each of the three study sites: the University of California, Irvine, Temple University, and the University of New Orleans.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained for all adult study participants. For study participants who were minors at study enrollment, both youth assent and parental consent were obtained.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Michigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.University of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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