Section 3: Assessment
2 Hours

Lecture Topic TOPIC: ASSESSMENT

Multiple Types and Sources of Assessment Data

As was emphasized earlier during this training, youth who have committed sex offenses are a diverse population with a wide range of individual needs, circumstances, and differing levels of risk. Therefore, if we are going to be able to make individualized and appropriate decisions about them, we must routinely rely on solid assessment data. Put simply, assessments are the key to informed decisionmaking.

Through our discussion of the various people who play a role in assessing, we began to identify some of the important pieces of information that should be collected or assessed in order to enhance our ability to respond more effectively to these individual needs and risk factors. Let’s take a few minutes to brainstorm about some other types of information or assessment data that are needed in order to make informed decisions throughout the juvenile sex offender management process.

Use SlideUse Slide #6: What types of assessment data are needed to make informed decisions about juvenile sex offenders?
Use SlideUse Slide #7: Examples of Important Data Points

(ALLOW FOR AUDIENCE RESPONSES.)

That's right. To make well–informed decisions, it is important to assess a number of factors specific to the juvenile, the family, and the environment.1

Included among the important data points is the level of risk that the youth poses to the community—both in terms of committing additional sex offenses and more general delinquency, or non–sex offenses. Also critical are the types of sexual behaviors that the youth has engaged in—both normal and deviant—and the frequency of those behaviors.

Many of you are already aware that a large proportion of youth involved in the juvenile justice system have significant emotional or psychological difficulties, such as depression, attention–deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or anxiety disorders.2 You will probably not be surprised, then, to learn that many juvenile sex offenders have co–existing mental health difficulties.3 As such, it is important that we assess for the presence of these types of symptoms or disorders as well.

Having an understanding of the youth’s level of intellectual or cognitive functioning or any learning difficulties is also very important. This information will influence the specific kinds of services that are provided, as well as the types of approaches that will be most effective for the youth. Certainly, we cannot expect that all youth equally understand abstract concepts or have the ability to complete sophisticated and complex exercises. And the vocabulary used in some assessment measures or treatment workbooks may be beyond the comprehension of some youth. Therefore, it is important to assess intellectual ability, cognitive functioning, and achievement.

Information about the juvenile’s family and environment is especially critical when working with juvenile sex offenders. For example, we need to know whether the parent(s) are willing and able to provide adequate structure within the home, and if they are able to set appropriate and firm limits. It is also essential to know if there are mental health difficulties, serious health concerns, substance abuse problems, or other factors that impact the ability of the parents or caregivers to provide a stable home environment. Having an understanding of the financial and employment stability of the family is important as well.

We also want to know whether there is a history of violence or maltreatment within the home—such as whether or not the youth has been exposed to domestic violence or aggression, or has been subjected to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Remember that some of these environmental factors have been found to be common among juvenile sex offenders—and juvenile delinquents in general.4 And some experts believe that there may be some kind of relationship between these types of issues and the development of sex offending or other delinquent behavior.5

And when considering the youth’s environment, it is important to assess community influences such as socioeconomic conditions, cultural norms and values, neighborhood safety, and community cohesion or connectedness. In addition, peer affiliations must be assessed, given the relationship between negative peer associations and increased risk for delinquency.6 Access to victims and victim safety issues are essential considerations during the assessment of the environment as well.

Beyond concerns, deficits, and negative attributes, it is also vital that strengths and assets are assessed.

Use SlideUse Slide #8: Assess Strengths and Assets
Use SlideUse Slide #9: Assessment Data Sources

Individuals often feel more respected and valued when professionals recognize their interests and strengths and do not focus only on their problems. And of course, it is important to identify strengths and protective factors so that they can be built upon when designing strategies and interventions—using the strengths of a juvenile and his or her family can enhance the likelihood of success.7

Obviously, there is a lot of assessment data to be gathered about these youth and their families. And there are many sources from which this information can be obtained.

Interviewing the youth is an essential part of any assessment, but it certainly cannot be the only way to gather data. As you are well aware, relying on a juvenile’s self–report will probably leave you with a very limited picture of the youth and his or her family—and one that reflects only what the youth is willing and able to tell you. Therefore, it is important that parents or caregivers, additional family members, and other collaterals are interviewed.8

In addition, the full range of records must be reviewed, such as police reports, victim statements, school records, social services and child welfare documents, and prior treatment records.9 These documents and records can provide a rich source of data about the juvenile and family. Without carefully reviewing these items, professionals will likely operate at a considerable disadvantage and will probably miss essential pieces information—perhaps at the expense of the safety of the juvenile, family, victims, and the community.

And lastly, some of the data that we just identified as important will be obtained through psychological testing, using specific assessment measures that are designed to identify personality variables and mental health needs as well as tests and inventories can help explore sexual interests, attitudes, and behaviors.10

Some of these tools are paper–and–pencil measures that are completed by the youth. Others may be completed by parents, caregivers, teachers, treatment providers, or supervision officers. And some assessment tools are physiological instruments that measure physical changes in—or reactions of—the youth, such as viewing time measures, the penile plethysmograph, and the polygraph.

We will talk in more detail about each of these kinds of assessment measures a little bit later.

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