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Volume 6, Issue 1 • Spring 2017

Table of Contents

Editor's Note

Facility Operations and Juvenile Recidivism

Neighborhood Risks and Resources Correlated With Successful
Reentry of Youth Returning from Massachusetts Detention Centers

Girls Leaving Detention: Perceptions of Transition to Home After

An Innovative Use of Conjoint Analysis to Understand
Decision-Making by Juvenile Probation Officers

“I’d Prefer an Applicant Who Doesn’t Have a Delinquency History”:
Delinquents in the Labor Market

Gender Comparisons in the Processes and Outcomes of Functional
Family Therapy

Achieving Juvenile Justice Reforms Through Decision-Making Structures: The Case of Georgia

The Benefits of Community and Juvenile Justice Involvement in
Organizational Research

Gender Comparisons in the Processes and Outcomes of Functional Family Therapy

Katarzyna Celinska, Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration, John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Chia-Cherng Cheng, Information Services Department, Rutgers University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Katarzyna Celinska, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration, 524 W. 59th Street, 422-11T, New York, NY 10019. E-mail:

Keywords: female delinquents, program evaluation, Functional Family Therapy, delinquency, gender


Although their overall delinquency rates have been declining in recent years, female adolescents are being arrested and institutionalized at a higher rate than males. This study explores the participation of female and male delinquents in Functional Family Therapy (FFT). The data include 116 adolescents who were enrolled in FFT in Middlesex County, New Jersey. The results indicate that females and males are referred to FFT by different agencies, suggesting another pathway to delinquency. The findings show similar therapeutic but mixed juvenile justice outcomes for female and male delinquents. However, no statistically significant differences between both genders have emerged. More studies are needed to explore effectiveness of FFT by gender, and whether gender-specific approaches are more suitable than evidence-based interventions.


The statistical data indicate that the number of female delinquents arrested and detained is on the rise. In 2013, law enforcement made over 700,000 arrests of juveniles under age of 18. Although the juvenile arrests decreased by 15.5 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, arrests of female juveniles have been rising. For example, the percentage of female arrests increased from 17 percent in 1980 to 29 percent in 2010 ( The data show that female delinquents tend to be arrested for larceny-theft, prostitution, and breaking liquor laws. The largest increase in female arrests occurred in property crimes (Sickmund & Puzzanchera, 2014). In addition, although the court cases of female adolescents account for a relatively small share of all cases, the number of female defendants either increased, or decreased less than the number of male defendants (Sickmund & Puzzanchera, 2014).

The data indicate that male delinquents are more likely to be detained than females. However, between 1985 and 2010 the number of detained females increased by 43 percent, while the number of detained males increased by 11 percent. In 2010, females were charged in 28 percent of all delinquency cases and in 43 percent of all status offenses. The majority of female status offenders were brought to the court on charges of running away from home (58 percent; Sickmund & Puzzanchera, 2014).

The above-summarized statistical data clearly show that female involvement in the juvenile justice system has been increasing. These recent trends are concerning; subsequently, many scholars have been calling for gender-appropriate interventions that would prevent and reduce female involvement in the system (Bloom, Owen, & Covington, 2005; Hubbard & Matthews, 2008; Widom, 2000; Worthen, 2011).

The current study is exploratory and reports results of the process and outcome evaluation for females and males who participated in Functional Family Therapy (FFT). Specifically, the purpose of this research is to describe how females and males enter the juvenile justice system and the FFT intervention, and to compare the therapeutic and the juvenile justice outcomes by gender. The data used in this research were collected between 2006 and 2011 as part of a larger evaluation study conducted with youth enrolled in the Children at Risk Resources and Interventions—Youth Intensive Intervention Program (CARRI-YIIP) in Middlesex County, New Jersey. The sample includes 116 adolescents who completed FFT: 72 males and 44 females.

Although FFT has been recognized as an effective intervention for many types of juvenile delinquents (status offenders, serious delinquents, drug- and alcohol-abusing juveniles), only a small number of studies address the issues of differential impact by gender. This study is an attempt to fill the current gap that exists in the literature. The findings of this project will contribute to the literature on interventions for female and male delinquents, and particularly on their participation in FFT. The results are relevant to current juvenile justice policies.

Interventions for Juvenile Delinquents

In recent years, many scholars have focused their attention on evaluating effectiveness of programs and interventions for juvenile delinquents. Myers (2013) argues that this trend is a part of the “accountability movement” pursued by the agencies and organizations in the juvenile justice system.

There are various ways of identifying and subsequently implementing effective interventions for young offenders. For example, Lipsey, Howell, Kelly, Chapman, and Carver (2010) differentiated among three approaches: a direct evaluation of the implemented program, selecting a model program that has been deemed effective by a reliable source (e.g., the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s “Model Programs Guide”), or selecting a program through meta-analysis. Based on these approaches, Greenwood (2008) distinguished among proven, preferred, promising, provisional, and ineffective programs and strategies. The proven and preferred programs have been reviewed and recommended by various institutions (e.g., the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado in the form of the Blueprint for Violence Prevention) and based on meta-analysis research (e.g., Lipsey; the Campbell Collaboration). Further, Greenwood explained that the interventions shown to be effective were recommended either in their “generic” form of successful strategies (such as group therapy or behavior modification) or because they were in the category of brand-name programs (such as FFT and Multisystemic Therapy [MST]). He concluded that family therapy appeared to work as a generalized approach and as a preferred brand-name program when offered in the community. Two interventions that were identified in these groups were FFT and MST (see also MacKenzie & Farrington, 2015).

Similar to FFT, MST is a family-based program, but it is more extensive in its scope and more expensive to run, because it involves a wider social network. Besides FFT and MST, Greenwood (2008), MacKenzie and Farrington (2015), and Welsh and Greenwood (2015) listed other effective types of community programs, such as teen courts and adolescent diversion projects, as well as programs such as Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC) and its specific category—Girls in Treatment Foster Care.

Overall, scholars tend to agree that increasing severity of punishment and increasing control over delinquents do not reduce delinquent behavior. The most effective programs and interventions are those that include elements of family therapy, behavior modification, and skill building. Skill-building programs (e.g., behavioral programs) aim to teach youth how to control their behavior and how to participate in social activities (e.g., educational and vocational training; Lipsey, 2009). Yet Greenwood (2008) also stated that only about 5 percent of youth who are eligible to participate in these programs, are able to participate. He suggested the two main reasons are a lack of accountability and assessment of programs within the juvenile justice system, and a lack of funding to implement evidence-based programs.

Interventions for Female Delinquents

Research indicates that the trajectory or pathways to delinquency and the juvenile justice system differ by gender. Some scholars suggest this trend could be related to differences in self-concepts and socialization of boys and girls (Espinosa, Sorensen, & Lopez, 2013). In addition, many female delinquents have serious co-occurring problems since their childhood. For example, girls involved in the juvenile justice system tend to have had trauma, often caused by emotional, physical, and sexual abuse they experienced in destructive and unstable families (Chesney-Lind & Shelden, 2004; Chesney-Lind, Morash, & Stevens, 2008; Marsiglio, Chronister, Gibson, & Leve, 2014). Involvement in drug and alcohol abuse also has been linked to traumatic events in the lives of girls. Finally, research indicates that female delinquents who have experienced trauma tend to suffer from various mental health issues (Crimmins, Cleary, Brownsteing, Spunt, & Warley, 2000). In fact, mental health needs of females in the child welfare and in the juvenile justice systems are significantly higher than in the general population (Lennon-Dearing, Whitted, & Delavega, 2013; Teplin et al., 2006).

According to many scholars, girls are punished more severely than boys in the juvenile justice system. It is especially evident in controlling and punishing for committing status offenses—acts that would be legal if committed by an adult (Carr, Hudson, Hanks, & Hunt, 2008; Chesney-Lind, 2002). In 1974 the Federal Government passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). Though the Act’s intent was to reduce institutionalization of status offenders, the family courts have continued to punish female status offenders—especially ethnic and racial minority females (Carr et al., 2008; Espinosa et al., 2013).

Research on adult female offenders suggests that women respond differently to interventions and imprisonment than their male counterparts, indicating a similar trend for young female and male delinquents (Bloom et al., 2005; Gover, Perez, & Jennings, 2008; Wolff & Shi, 2009). Nevertheless, research on programs and interventions for female delinquents is still very limited (Carr et al., 2008; Hubbard & Matthews, 2008).

According to Hubbard and Matthews (2008), there are two theoretical approaches to interventions for female delinquents. One approach focuses on different pathways to criminality and distinctive ways of entering the juvenile justice system. Subsequently, those researchers call for “gender-specific” interventions and programs that differ from those offered to male delinquents (e.g., Belknap, 2001; Belknap & Holsinger, 1998; Bloom, 2000; Bloom, Owen, & Covington, 2003; Chesney-Lind & Shelden, 2004). Yet some scholars warn about the consequences of applying this approach. Carr and colleagues (2008) suggest that although gender specific programs might be very useful, they might also lead to different gender standards for behavior expectations and interventions. Such a change could be counterproductive for female delinquents.

The second approach, preferred mainly by the quantitative researchers, identifies variables correlated with recidivism. These scholars tend to support evidence-based programs that they claim are equally applicable to males and females (e.g., Cullen & Gendreau, 2000; Gendreau, 1996; Latessa, Cullen, & Gendreau, 2002). Among all evidence-based programs, cognitive–behavioral models seem to be the most effective in addressing delinquency. FFT is an example of such an evidence-based intervention. However, researchers in the gender-responsive group argue that cognitive–behavioral approaches ignore differences in the roots of criminality. They assert that the best approaches for young female delinquents are strength-based, leading to empowering females. They support therapeutic approaches and relational models that address traumas in the lives of young females.

Based on current literature, Hubbard and Matthews (2008) concluded that the preferred interventions to prevent female delinquency and female involvement in the juvenile system are those that combine both the relational and cognitive–behavioral models. One such approach would be a family intervention that focuses on reducing conflicts within family and on improving communication skills among family members. FFT includes such elements, especially during the first stage of motivation and engagement. The emphasis of the first phase is on improving family relations and on engaging all participants equally in the therapeutic process. Yet the FFT model does not address other vital elements of female delinquency, such as trauma.

Research on gender issues in FFT is still limited. Some researchers focused on gender of therapists and how it affected FFT’s effectiveness. For example, Newberry, Alexander, and Turner (1991) found that female therapists were more successful than male therapists in engaging families in the first FFT phase. They claimed that the gender of the therapist mattered to clients because female and male therapists responded differently to clients' behavior. In contrast, Robbins, Alexander, and Turner (2000) found no differences in therapy outcomes based on the gender of the therapist.

The question of the differential impact of FFT based on the client's gender was addressed in several outcome studies. Early research by Alexander and Parsons (1973) and Barton and Alexander (1981), as well as a more recent study by Robbins, Alexander, and Turner (2000), indicated that therapy outcomes do not depend on the gender of the clients. On the other hand, in a retrospective study of 118 families who participated in FFT, Graham, Carr, Rooney, Sexton, and Satterfield (2014) found that FFT effectiveness was not only associated with treatment completion and adherence to the model by the therapists, but also with the clients' gender. Specifically, they concluded that better outcomes were obtained by younger female clients. In one of the most comprehensive recent evaluations, Baglivio, Jackowski, Greenwald, and Wolff (2014) compared the effectiveness of MST and FFT and found that both programs led to significant improvements for youth with two exceptions: females receiving FFT had a lower recidivism rate, and low-risk youth receiving FFT had fewer offenses during the service provision. Contrary to the above-mentioned studies, in 2007 Aultman-Bettridge reported no significant differences in post-program risk factors and recidivism between delinquent girls who participated in FFT and those who did not. Similarly, Celinska, Furrer, and Cheng (2013) found that only males who participated in FFT improved on the Child Strengths Scale of the Strengths and Needs Assessment (SNA), but not females. However, they also noted that the results could be affected by a small sample size.

There are still few published studies on gender differences in FFT outcome evaluations. In addition, the findings in these studies seem to be contradictory and inconclusive. In light of those results, it is especially pertinent to further explore the impact of FFT on young females.

Functional Family Therapy

Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is a systematic clinical model and intervention designed to assist delinquents and juveniles at risk for delinquency, and their families (Alexander & Sexton, 2002; Sexton & Alexander, 2004). Developed in the late 1960s, FFT has been recognized by various governmental and nongovernmental organizations as a model intervention and a blueprint program that addresses needs of young delinquents in preventing behavior that leads to delinquency (

FFT is a short-term family therapy intervention that targets adolescents ages 11 to 18. Siblings and at least one parent or guardian are also included. The FFT model has three distinctive stages: engagement and motivation, behavioral change, and generalization. During the first phase, the therapists work on engaging families by reducing negativity and blaming in communication among family members. One of the goals during this stage is to create a balanced alliance among all family members and the therapist, and to facilitate an equal participation from everyone, especially youth. During the second stage, the therapists work on changing behaviors that led youth to risky and delinquent behavior. The therapists may work on such issues as anger management, problem solving, and parental skills. Finally, during the last stage of generalization, the therapists focus on educating families in sustaining the positive behavioral changes gained during the therapy and in using available local resources (Alexander & Sexton, 2002; Sexton & Alexander, 2004). The fidelity to the FFT model is ensured by the training of the therapists and through on- and off-site supervision from the FFT supervisors and FFT consultants.

Evaluation of FFT

Since its inception, FFT has been evaluated for its effectiveness in preventing delinquency. Several studies have indicated that FFT has a positive impact on communication skills among family members (Alexander & Parsons, 1973). Further, Alexander, Barton, Schiavo, and Parsons (1976) found that participating in FFT decreased defensiveness and increased support among family members. Many studies linked positive outcomes of FFT with its model design, particularly its first phase of engagement and motivation (Mas, Alexander, & Turner, 1991; Robbins et al., 2000; Robbins, Turner, Alexander, & Perez, 2003).

The published evaluation studies have tended to show a significant and positive impact of FFT on delinquency and recidivism rate (Barnoski, 2004; Barton, Alexander, Waldron, Turner, & Warburton, 1985; Gordon, Arbuthnot, Gustafson, & McGreen, 1988; Klein, Alexander, & Parsons, 1977; Washington State Institute for Public Policy, 2002). More recently, using a slightly different and a smaller sample from the same project as in the present study, Celinska and colleagues (2013) found that adolescents who participated in FFT significantly reduced their unmet emotional and behavioral needs, and reduced risk behaviors as measured by the Strengths and Needs Assessment. Graham and colleagues (2014) observed that FFT was effective when the treatment was completed by participants, and when the therapists adhered to the model. Finally, in a comprehensive evaluation of FFT and MST, Baglivio and colleagues (2014) found both FFT programs to be effective in reducing recidivism rates. They also noted that females who completed FFT had a lower recidivism rate than females who completed MST.

Some studies indicated that FFT was successful in addressing the needs of drug- and alcohol-abusing youth. For example, Waldron and Turner (2008) conducted a meta-analysis of 17 studies on outpatient treatment for adolescents and found that participating in FFT significantly and positively reduces substance abuse among adolescents.

FFT also seems to be an effective intervention for adult offenders. Datchi and Sexton (2013) indicated that probationers who were in FFT had less intrafamily conflicts and fewer mental health issues than those who received only probation supervision.

A number of published studies have focused on the role of FFT therapists who are trained to offer individualized therapy to families while adhering to the FFT model (Flicker, Turner, Waldron, Brody, & Ozechowski, 2008; Flicker, Waldron, Turner, Brody, & Hops, 2008; Newberry et al., 1991; Sexton & Schuster, 2008). Sexton and Schuster (2008) concluded that FFT has an advantage over other family therapies, because its first phase is dedicated to addressing motivation and engagement, as well as to reducing blame among family members.

Methods and Data

The goal of this study is to describe how young females and males enter the juvenile justice system and the FFT intervention, and to compare and contrast the therapeutic and the juvenile justice outcomes by gender. The data were collected between 2006 and 2011, and the Family Automated Case Tracking System (FACTS) data were collected in March 2014. The project received an Institutional Review Board approval from Rutgers University in New Jersey (formerly the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey [UMDNJ]) and the Certificate of Confidentiality from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Recruitment and Characteristics of the Sample

The data were collected on 116 adolescents enrolled in FFT in the CARRI-YIIP program at the UMDNJ (currently Rutgers University). The sample came from a larger evaluation project that included youth ages 11 to 17 who lived with a parent or guardian, and who had a history of aggressive behavior, destruction of property, or chronic truancy. Youth with serious criminal behavior, drug or alcohol use, or mental health issues were not admitted to FFT. The CARRI-YIIP accepted clients until the program’s saturation.

The initial involvement and referral sources to FFT differed by gender (see Table 1). The majority of male adolescents came to the program through Middlesex County Probation (40 versus 9 for females), while the majority of female adolescents were referred by the Mobile Response and Stabilization Services of New Jersey. Mobile Response responds to assist children and youth who are experiencing emotional and behavioral crises. Mobile Response offers short-term services that focus on resolving crises, providing safety to children while trying to maintain them in their own environment (

Table 1. Demographic and Program Characteristics by Gender (N= 116)


(N = 72)

(N = 44)















Age (mean):













Middlesex County Probation



Mobile Response



Youth Case Management (YCM)



Family Crisis Intervention Unit (FCIU)



Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS)



Middlesex County Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT)






Duration in FFT:


Duration in program (days)



Total number of sessions attended (mean)



Total number of sessions in the first phase (mean)




The majority of youth who participated in FFT were mandated by the Family Court (59 percent). Among all 69 mandated adolescents, 48 were males and 21 were females. The difference is significant at p < .05.

Fidelity to the model was ensured in several ways. Each therapist had to complete annual FFT Site Certification Training. They were also monitored through a web-based FFT Clinical Services System and supervised by the off-site national FFT Consultant. An on-site FFT-certified supervisor provided ongoing oversight.

The sample included youth who completed FFT and for whom the outcome data were available. The basic characteristics of the sample and the referral sources to the program are presented in Table 1.

Outcome Data

The outcome data for our study came from two sources: the Strengths and Needs Assessment (SNA) and the Family Automated Case Tracking System (FACTS). Both data sets are described below.

The Strengths and Needs Assessment

The Strengths and Needs Assessment (SNA) is a comprehensive clinical and research instrument developed by Lyons (2009) that consists of rating the strengths and needs of adolescent clients and their parents. The total scores guide therapists in choosing appropriate treatment. They can also be used to assess the effectiveness of the intervention (Anderson, Lyons, Giles, Price, & Estle, 2003; Lyons, Griffin, & Fazio, 1999). Studies suggest that the SNA have both validity and reliability (Anderson & Estle, 2001; Anderson et al., 2003; Lyons, 2009; Lyons, Weiner, & Lyons, 2004). In this project the reliability of the SNA was also ensured through in-person or web-based training of the CARRI-YIIP therapists (Caliwan & Furrer, 2009). In addition, since the SNA was used for clinical decisions, the accuracy of the SNA was continuously assessed through supervision and the review of client records.

The SNA consist of seven domains: Life Domain Functioning (13 items), Child Strengths (9 items), Acculturation (3 items), Caregiver Strengths (6 items), Caregiver Needs (5 items), Child Behavioral/Emotional Needs (9 items), and Child Risk Behaviors (10 items). Life Domain Functioning includes items on family life, school, and occupation. Child Strengths focuses on each adolescent’s family situation, personal achievements, and involvement in the community. Acculturation pertains to language and culture. Caregiver Strengths includes issues regarding the caregiver’s relationship with the child and the level of stability at home. Caregiver Needs includes any mental and physical health problems. Child Behavioral/Emotional Needs measures impulsivity, depression, anxiety, anger control, and substance abuse. Child Risk Behaviors assesses suicide risk, self-mutilation, danger to others, sexual aggression, running away, delinquency, and fire setting.

The SNA was administered twice, before and after intervention. This process allowed for employing the SNA as a pre- and post-test. The therapists rated families on a scale ranging from 0 (no evidence of problem; no need for service) to 3 (severe; need and priority for an intervention). The items were recoded (from 1 to 4) so that the higher scores represented improvement. Next, 6 scales were created: Life Domain Scale (LDF), Child Strengths Scale (CS), Caregiver Strengths Scale (CST), Caregiver Needs Scale (CN), Child Behavior Emotional Needs Scale (CBEN), and Child Risk Behavior Scale (CR). The scales were computed as the means of all the items within each domain.

Family Automated Case Tracking System

The Family Automated Case Tracking System (FACTS) came from an electronic data system kept by the Family Division of the Middlesex Family Court in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Researchers obtained permission from the New Jersey Supreme Court to access the records of juveniles who participated in FFT. FACTS were developed by the Information Systems Division in conjunction with the Family Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Currently, FACTS is fully implemented in all New Jersey counties (

The records were received by researchers in March 2014. The data included all appearances in the Middlesex County Family Court with information on charges and dispositions. The data were coded by two graduate students. The database was created in SPSS by Dr. Celinska. The codes related to the charges and dispositions were developed by her after consulting with the Assistant Family Division Manager. The data were further coded by Mr. Cheng to facilitate statistical analysis.


Characteristics of the Sample

We started our analysis by comparing the sample of male and female delinquents on the basic demographic and program characteristics and on the ratings obtained from the initial SNA assessment. The findings showed no statistically significant differences between male and female adolescents based on race, ethnicity, duration in the program, and initial assessment on 6 domains.

To find out more about the sample of adolescents that participated in FFT, we researched 2 central factors in male and female delinquency and their involvement in the juvenile justice system: trauma and drug and alcohol abuse. These variables came from the initial SNA. We found that 29 adolescents (13 female and 16 male) experienced trauma in their lives. Those with trauma scored significantly lower on the Child Strengths Scale, Caregiver Strengths Scale, and Child Behavior Emotional Needs Scale. Although the literature suggest that females who are in the juvenile justice system are more likely to experience trauma in their lives due to neglect and abuse, in our sample there was no significant difference between males and females in terms of trauma occurrence. On the other hand, there were significantly more males (43) who abused drugs and/or alcohol than females (15) (F = 7.177, p < .01). In total, 58 adolescents (50 percent of the sample) used alcohol and/or drugs in the past. Those who used alcohol and/or drugs had significantly lower scores on the Life Domain Scale, Caregiver Needs Scale, Child Behavioral Emotional Scale, and Child Risk Behavior Scale. In short, youth who used drugs and alcohol and experienced trauma in their lives were also those with more serious problems related to everyday functioning (Life Domain Scale) and to risk factors for delinquency (Child Behavioral Emotional Scale and Child Risk Behavior Scale). In addition, the caregivers of adolescents with a history of trauma or alcohol and drug abuse rated significantly lower either on the Caregiver Needs scale or the Caregiver Strengths Scale.

Outcome Variables: Strengths and Needs Assessment and Recidivism

Table 2 present the results of t-tests between initial and discharge SNAs.

Table 2. Change Between Initial and Discharge Strengths and Needs Assessments by Gender:
Paired t-test (N=116)




Life Doman Scale (LDS):


Initial Assessment



Discharge Assessment



Child Strengths Scale (CS):


Initial Assessment



Discharge Assessment



Caregivers Strengths Scale (CST):


Initial Assessment



Discharge Assessment



Caregivers Needs Scale (CN):


Initial Assessment



Discharge Assessment



Child Behavior Emotional Needs Scale (CBEN):


Initial Assessment



Discharge Assessment



Child Risk Behavior Scale (CR):


Initial Assessment



Discharge Assessment



Note.*p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001.


The comparison between initial and discharge assessments showed significant improvements for male and female adolescents on the Life Domain Scale and Child Behavior Emotional Needs Scale (at p < .001). Both groups also improved on the Child Strengths Scale and Child Risk Behavior Scale; however, the male adolescents improved more on the Child Risk Behavior Scale, while the female adolescents improved more on the Child Strengths Scale. There was a statistically significant improvement on the Caregiver Strengths Scale for the caregivers of males (at p < .05), but not for the caregivers of females. Finally, neither caregivers of females nor of males improved significantly on the Caregiver Needs Scale. Overall, several pre- and post-intervention significant differences were detected for both male and female adolescents, suggesting a positive impact of FFT on youth and their caregivers. Next, the comparison between females and males was conducted to examine whether there was a differential impact of FFT.

Based on ANCOVA analysis, no significant changes were found between both samples. This finding indicated that the improvements on 6 SNA scales did not differ by gender (see Table 3).

Table 3. Change Between Initial and Discharge Assessments (Strengths and Needs Assessment) by Gender: The ANCOVA Model (N=116)




Pr > F


Life Domain Scale (LDS):










Child Strengths Scale (CS):










Caregiver Strengths Scale (CST):*










Caregiver Needs Scale (CN):










Child Behavior Emotional Needs Scale (CBEN):*










Child Risk Behavior Scale (CR):*










Note.*p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001.


Finally, we compared the numbers of delinquency cases brought to the Family Court. Table 4 presents 8 types of cases (custody/child support, child abuse and neglect, matrimonial/divorce, guardianship, family in crisis/behavior, family in crisis/Mobile Response, domestic violence, and delinquency) and 3 types of court adjudications (convictions, institutionalizations, and non-convictions). The data are organized for the whole sample and indicate the number of cases before, during, and after participating in FFT.

Table 4. Number of Cases and the Results of Delinquency Cases Before, During, and After Functional Family Therapy (N=116)


Before FFT

During FFT

After FFT



Custody, Child Support




Child Abuse and Neglect




Matrimonial, Divorce








Family in Crisis, Behavior




Family in Crisis, Mobile Response




Domestic Violence























The data for the FFT participants indicated a decrease in total number of cases from 390 to 225, and, in delinquency cases, from 286 to 177. Similarly, the number of convictions decreased from 175 to 64, and the number of those who were not convicted increased from 76 (before FFT) to 42 (after participating in FFT). However, the number of institutionalizations increased from 35 to 68. This last increase probably means that the longer involvement in the juvenile justice system leads to a harsher punishment, including institutionalization.

According to FACTS data, the number of delinquency cases after participating in FFT decreased. The data (not presented in Table 4) suggest that the charges brought in the Family Court differed by gender. Unexpectedly, more females were convicted for violent offenses (8) than males (3); however, more males were institutionalized for violent offenses (8) than females (2). It is plausible that young male delinquents committed a smaller number of violent offenses but more serious acts than those committed by females. It is also possible that the male subjects had a longer history of involvement in the justice system, which could lead to a more serious outcome. Finally, if we take into account convictions for violent crimes during participation in FFT, the total number of convictions is nearly equal: 9 for males and 10 for females. It is worth noting that 35 male adolescents were institutionalized due to violation of probation, versus only 2 such violations for female delinquents. This finding reflects that more males than females entered the FFT program through probation.

To examine whether the changes in the number of delinquency cases, convictions, and institutionalizations before and after intervention for female and male delinquents were significant, ANCOVA and a paired t-test were performed. We combined the numbers during and after FFT (see Table 5).

Table 5. ANCOVA: Change Between Before and After FFT by Gender


Male (N = 72)

Female (N = 44)








Before FFT





After FFT







Before FFT





After FFT







Before FFT





After FFT





Note.* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.


Although the same pattern was observed for females and males (a decrease in the number of convictions and an increase in the number of institutionalizations), some important differences also emerged. For example, the number of delinquency cases increased for females, but decreased for males. These changes were not statistically significant. On the other hand, the increase in the number of convictions and institutionalizations was significant for males but not for females. It is possible that these results reflect a difference in crime patterns between genders as well as in referral sources. Significantly more male adolescents were mandated to participate in FFT and were referred to the program by probation.

Next, we performed ANOVA to examine whether the changes pre- and post-intervention differed by gender (see Table 6). The results suggest that there are no statistically significant differences between male and female adolescents in terms of delinquency cases, number of convictions, and number of institutionalizations.

Table 6. ANOVA: Change Between Before and After FFT by Gender (N = 116)




Pr > F




























Note.* p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.



Although juvenile delinquency rates have been declining in recent years, female delinquents are being arrested and detained at a higher rate than their male counterparts. One way of preventing this trend is by using effective intervention programs that would reduce recidivism and prevent delinquency in the first place.

The current research suggests two types of interventions for female delinquents: gender-specific programs that focus on the needs of females, and evidence-based interventions applicable to both males and females. FFT follows the second paradigm, although its focus on communication skills and engagement in its first phase includes elements recommended by the gender-specific approach.

By researching a sample of 116 youth enrolled in FFT in Middlesex County, we explored two issues: how young males and females entered the program, and whether post-intervention outcomes, as measured by SNA and recidivism data, differed by gender. Some interesting findings about both samples (72 males and 44 females) have emerged. In accordance with the literature, we found that girls are mainly brought to the system on status offense charges. Although most male adolescents were brought to FFT through probation and were mandated to participate in the program, the majority of girls entered FFT by referral from Mobile Response Services used in the county to respond to family crisis.

We specifically examined two issues in our samples: trauma, and drug and alcohol abuse. We expected that more females experienced trauma before being enrolled in FFT. Although 25 percent of youth in our sample experienced trauma, no significant difference between males and females was detected. On the other hand, there were significantly more males than females who used drugs and/or alcohol before being enrolled in FFT (60 percent of all boys and 34 percent of all girls). Those who experienced trauma and/or used alcohol and drugs scored lower on one of our outcome variables, the SNA.

Next the pre-FFT and post-FFT comparison was conducted on 6 SNA scales. Both females and males improved significantly on the Life Domain Functioning, Child Behavioral Emotional Needs, Child Strengths, and Child Risk Behavior scales. The subsequent ANCOVA analysis showed no statistically significant changes between both samples, which suggests that FFT is comparably effective for male and female delinquents in our sample. Finally, the Family Court data were used to compare the number of delinquency cases, convictions, and institutionalizations. We found that the number of convictions decreased and the number of institutionalizations increased. Both changes were significant for males. We interpret these findings not as a failure of the intervention (we did not conduct statistical analysis to examine these outcomes), but rather as an impact of different crime patterns as well as reasons for being enrolled in FFT. Our results on SNA scales suggest a similar and overall positive impact of FFT on adolescents in our sample. Finally, the results of ANOVA analysis suggest no significant differences between both genders on changes before and after FFT in terms of number of delinquency cases, convictions, and institutionalizations. The change in the number of institutionalizations between genders nearly approached the statistically significant level, reflecting an increase in the number of institutionalizations and an overall higher number of institutionalizations among male adolescents.

The results should be considered with caution. The sample of females is smaller than the sample of males. Further, the sample was limited only to those who completed FFT and for whom all the data (SNA and FACTS) were available. The data on program dropouts were not available. Also, statistical analysis of recidivism was limited to comparing the changes in the numbers of delinquency cases, convictions, and institutionalizations. We did not conduct more sophisticated statistical analysis that would include types of crimes or more detailed history of involvement in the juvenile justice system. Future studies should consider different factors that lead young males and young females to delinquency and to entering the juvenile justice system.

This exploratory research is one of the first studies to separately evaluate the participation of females and males in FFT. The facts that female delinquents came to the FFT program from different referral sources and that their participation was less likely than male delinquents to be mandated by court suggest different underlying problems and committed offenses. Although we did not find significant outcome differences on one of our dependent variables, the SNA, we did find significant differences in the number of convictions and institutionalizations. After participating in FFT, male adolescents were convicted significantly less and institutionalized significantly more than females. These results suggest that the uniform approach to male and female delinquents may not necessarily be warranted. More studies are needed with analyses conducted using larger samples of males and females. It would be also important to conduct qualitative interviews to gauge satisfaction with FFT among female delinquents, as well as to address female issues of trauma and empowerment.

This study is important in bringing up questions of gender differences among juveniles in entering juvenile justice prevention programs and in examining intervention outcomes by gender. Although many scholars and practitioners call for using brand-name programs such as FFT, the number of evaluation studies that focus on female delinquents and gender differences is still quite limited. However, in light of the increasing numbers of females involved in the juvenile justice system, it is critical to identify programs and interventions that adequately address the needs of females and the different pathways of female and male delinquents to the juvenile justice system.

About the Authors

Katarzyna Celinska, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York. Her research interests include women's incarcera­tion and the evaluation of violence prevention programs. She is currently writing a book on research and policies in corrections. She teaches various undergraduate and graduate courses.

Chia-Cherng Cheng, MA, is a programmer analyst in the Information Services Department at Rutgers University. He worked on a number of projects for the Violence Institute, including the Trauma Center Gunshot Wound Surveillance study, the Prison Reentry Project, the study on the Violence Death Report System, and the Cultural Based Model for Youth Violence Risk-Reduction.


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