Informant Discrepancy in Trauma Reporting among Juvenile Offenders and their Parents

Primary Submission Contact

Rose Clapper

Faculty Sponsor

Amanda Zelechoski

Faculty Sponsor Email Address



Arts and Sciences


Psychology/Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Document Type

Oral Presentation


Spring 4-30-2015


Extant literature indicates that mental health professionals receive a substantial amount of discrepant information from youth and their caregivers regarding the youth’s history of traumatic exposure and related symptoms. However, no studies to date have focused on discrepancy in reports of traumatic exposure between youths in the juvenile justice system and their caregivers.

The aim of this study was to examine differences between reports of trauma exposure and current symptomology between juvenile justice-involved youth and their parents/caregivers. Based on the existing literature, it was hypothesized that parents would underreport trauma exposures experienced by their children as well as their child’s mental health symptoms when directly compared with their child’s reports. This study is part of a larger feasibility pilot study nearing completion.

Recently arrested youth (N=27) and their parents or legal guardians were recruited for this feasibility pilot study from a Midwestern juvenile detention facility. Eligible participants included youth ages 18 or younger, who have pending and/or recently adjudicated criminal charges (i.e., within 30 days), and who were either residing in the detention center or at home under house arrest or probation status. Legal guardians completed the UCLA PTSD Reaction Index-Parent Version (PTSD-RI-P) and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). After obtaining parental consent, youth who assented to participate completed the PTSD-RI and the Youth Self-Report (YSR).

Participant recruitment for the feasibility pilot study phase of this longitudinal project is nearly complete, with a total of 27 youth enrolled to date. The sample is predominately male (77.8%, n=21) and Caucasian (70.4%, n=19), with an average age of 16 (M=16.48, SD=1.67). To test whether caregivers would underreport their child’s exposure to traumatic events and trauma-related symptoms, a paired samples t-test was used to compare parents’ scores on the PTSD-RI-P to youths’ corresponding scores on the PTSD-RI. Results indicated that, on average, youth reported experiencing a slightly higher number of traumatic events (DSM-IV criterion A; M=2.18, SD=1.63) when compared to their exposure to such events as reported by their parent/caregivers (M=1.65, SD=1.73); however, the reported differences did not reach statistical significance. Moreover, no statistical differences were reported between youth and parent/caregiver’s reports regarding any other DSM-IV PTSD criteria. Although mean differences were not as large as anticipated, low inter-rater agreement, as reflected in intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) analyses, was observed as expected. Specifically, youth vs. parent agreement on youth’s trauma exposure and symptoms was observed as follows: Criterion A (trauma exposure): ICC=.287, p=.122; Criterion B (re-experiencing symptoms): ICC=.453, p=.053; Criterion C (avoidance): ICC=.157, p=.299; Criterion D (arousal): ICC=.558, p=.019; and Total PTSD symptom severity score: ICC = .395, p=.082. With respect to related psychological symptoms, significant differences emerged between parents’ and youths’ reports on the CBCL and YSR, respectively on the following subscales: rule-breaking [t(15)=-4.62, p<.001], aggression [t(15)=-3.35, p=.004], internalizing symptoms [t(15)=-3.65, p=.002], and externalizing symptoms [t(15)=-4.48, p<.001], and overall symptoms scores [t(15)=-4.24, p=.001], with similarly low ICC inter-rater agreement scores. This study is one of the first to begin to examine the informant discrepancy phenomenon among juvenile justice-involved youth and their parents/caregivers.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

I am currently a first year graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program. My research interests have a clinical focus, which led me to join Dr. Zelechoski's research lab in the fall of 2014. Along with other members in this lab, I gathered information from adolescents at the Porter County Juvenile Detention Facility in Valparaiso, Indiana. I am currently working towards sharing our findings with professionals in the field. In the future, I hope to publish our findings and continue investigating this topic. I have been interested in trauma research since my undergraduate study, which led me to join Dr. Zelechoski's lab and get involved in her research. I was involved in a research lab during my undergraduate education at Bradley University, where I earned my Bachelor of Science in Psychology.

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