Section 4: Treatment
2 Hours

Lecture Topic TOPIC: TREATMENT

Part V: Current Challenges and Controversies

The field of juvenile sex offender treatment continues to evolve over time as new research and promising practices emerge. And it is certainly not without its challenges and controversies. For the next few minutes, I will highlight some of those issues.

For example, you’ll recall that there is some concern about the potential negative impact of aggregating delinquent peers for intervention purposes. And as we noted earlier, significant questions have been raised about the seemingly uncritical application of adult treatment models to juvenile sex offender treatment.

Similarly, there are criticisms about the tendency for some programs to use the same interventions, strategies, and approaches for all juvenile sex offenders—regardless of their age, developmental level, functional status, and even gender—using a “one size fits all” approach.

Special Populations

Juvenile Female Sex Offenders

We know that adolescent females can commit sex offenses, but does it make sense that treatment for them would look exactly like treatment for males? Why or why not?

(ALLOW FOR AUDIENCE RESPONSES.)

That’s right. Of course, there are a number of significant differences between adolescent females and males. And we know from the literature on juvenile delinquency that there are some risk factors that are unique to adolescent girls.56 And there is some evidence—although quite limited—to suggest that while there may be some common characteristics and treatment needs for juvenile female and male sex offenders, there are likely some critical differences that may have implications for gender–responsive treatment as well.57

Use SlideUse Slide #19: Juvenile Sex Offender Programs for Females
Use SlideUse Slide #20: Treatment Targets for Females vs. Males in Programs Nationwide

As you can see, across the country there are quite a few programs that are providing treatment for juvenile female sex offenders.58 The question is whether these programs are truly gender-responsive, or if they are simply delivering interventions that parallel treatment for juvenile male sex offenders.

To illustrate, let’s look again at the common targets of treatment for juvenile male sex offenders as reported by programs throughout the United States.59 And when we place those common treatment targets for juvenile males side by side with the targets reported by the programs that treat juvenile female sex offenders, what do you see?

(ALLOW FOR AUDIENCE RESPONSES.)

Based on this information, it’s pretty difficult to identify the extent to which programs approach treatment for juvenile female sex offenders differently than they approach treatment for juvenile males. Again, and unfortunately, there is a dearth of research and professional literature on the treatment of juvenile female sex offenders, and perhaps this lack of research is—at least in part—why there still seems to be so much overlap in programming for juvenile female and male sex offenders. However, this should not prevent programs from developing gender-responsive interventions based upon, at the very least, the ever–growing body of literature that outlines what we know about the unique risk and protective factors for adolescent girls in general.60

Perhaps this lack of research is—at least in part—why there still seems to be so much overlap in programming for juvenile female and male sex offenders. However, this should not prevent programs from developing gender–responsive interventions based upon, at the very least, the ever–growing body of literature that outlines what we know about the unique risk and protective factors for adolescent girls in general.

Use SlideUse Slide #21: Future Directions for Juvenile Female Sex Offender Treatment

Certainly, additional research on the differential risk and protective factors for juvenile female sex offenders is necessary. And more research on their clinical characteristics and modus operandi could help guide our approaches to treatment for this special population. And, of course, for any of the gender–responsive or other interventions that are provided, we need to conduct follow–up studies to evaluate treatment outcomes.

Children with Sexual Behavior Problems

Another special population that can be challenging for practitioners is the group of young, pre-pubescent children who evidence sexual behavior problems.

Use SlideUse Slide #22: Treatment Programs for Children with Sexual Behavior Problems

As you can see, there are a sizable number of programs—just over 400 in total—that report providing treatment to children with sexual behavior problems, with the overwhelming majority of these being community–based programs.61 Keep in mind that the focus of this particular training is on adolescents, generally those who are between 12 and 18 years of age. And we have deliberately not included discussions about young children with sexual behavior problems. This is to prevent any misperceptions or false assumptions that approaches to adolescents and young children should be the same.

Indeed, there are important differences between young children with sexual behavior problems and juvenile sex offenders that must be considered.62 It is well beyond the scope of this training to review what we currently know about these children—such as the different etiological factors and developmental issues—or to attempt to explain the treatment approaches that have been developed specifically for these children. Suffice it to say that just as adolescents differ from adults, so, too, do children differ from adolescents.

I mention these young children now because of some of the limitations and challenges in the field overall. There is little research on these children, and very few studies that examine specialized treatment for them. And of great concern are the labeling of young children as “sex offenders” and our systems’ subsequent responses to them.

Included in your participant packets are several references to additional resource materials about children with sexual behavior problems. And if you are working with these children, I would strongly encourage you to look further into this literature, if you have not already done so, as it can be very helpful for guiding your practices.

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