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Each year, thousands of U.S. youth are incarcerated in training schools and other types of facilities for delinquent juveniles. Research on the psychosocial backgrounds of incarcerated youth has shown a high rate of exposure to violence in both their homes and their neighborhoods (Lewis, Pincus, Lovely, Spitzer, & Moy, 1987). One line of research on incarcerated youth has examined the association of increased exposure to violence with negative outcomes, including committing more violent acts as well as continuing criminal behavior in adulthood (Lewis, Lovely, Yeager, & Femina, 1989; Lewis, Shanock, Pincus, & Glaser, 1980). Although it has long been recognized that incarcerated youth exhibit a variety of externalizing behavior problems, recent research has found that these children often suffer from internalizing problems as well, including anxiety (Armistead, Wierson, Forehand, & Frame, 1992), depressive symptomatology (Neighbors, Kempton, & Forehand, 1992), and suicidal thoughts and gestures (Alessi, McManus, Brickman, & Grapentine, 1984). Research in the general population has demonstrated an association between exposure to violence and depressive symptomatology (Allen & Tarnowski, 1989; Christopoulos et al., 1987; Jaffe, Wolfe, Wilson, & Zak, 1986a; Kaufman, 1991; Kazdin, Moser, Colbus, & Bell, 1985; Wissow, Wilson, Roter, Larson, & Berman, 1992). However, despite the recent interest in exposure to violence within incarcerated populations and the demonstrated association within the general population between exposure to violence and internalizing problems, we were unable to locate any published research concerning incarcerated youth that examined potential associations between exposure to family and neighborhood violence and internalizing problems such as depression.
Children may be exposed to violence in various social environments, with two of the more important social contexts being the children's neighborhoods and the children's families. Violence exposure may take at least two forms: (a) Children may witness violent behavior that is directed at others (i.e., they may observe violent acts between their parents or neighbors) and (b) children may be the direct victims of violence (i.e., they may be the victims of child abuse or other forms of assault). Studies of nonincarcerated populations of children suggest that each of these forms of violence exposure in these two important social contexts (i.e., being witnesses of neighborhood violence, being a victim of neighborhood violence, being a witness to family violence, and being a victim of family violence) places children at increased risk for mental health problems.
A large body of empirical work concerning the impact of violence exposure on children's development has examined children who have been direct victims of family violence; specifically, children who have been physically abused by family members. This research suggests that physically abused children are more likely than other children to evidence depressive symptomatology and depressive disorders (Allen & Tarnowski, 1989; Kaufman, 1991; Kazdin et al., 1985). Other types of problems also appear to be more common among abused children, including high levels of physical aggression and behavioral problems as well as low levels of social competence and attachment (Aber, Allen, Carlson, & Cicchetti, 1989; DuRant, Pendergrast, & Cadenhead, 1994; George & Main, 1979; Jaffe, Wolfe, Wilson, & Zak, 1986b; Kaufman & Cicchetti, 1989; Kinard, 1980; Trickett, Abet, Carlson, & Cicchetti, 1991; Wolfe & Mosk, 1983).
Studies also have examined how children's witnessing of violence between adult members of the family is related to children's development (Fantuzzo & Lindquist, 1989). High levels of depressive symptomatology, psychological distress, and other emotional problems have been found in children from homes in which there are high levels of violence between the adults in the family (Christopoulos et al., 1987; Jaffe et al., 1986a; Wissow et al., 1992). Elevated levels of behavioral problems and low levels of social competence also have been found in children who have witnessed parental violence (Fantuzzo et al., 1991; Hershorn & Rosenbaum, 1985; Holden & Ritchie, 1991; Rosenbaum & O'Leary, 1981; Wolfe, Jaffe, Wilson, & Zak, 1985; Wolfe, Zak, Wilson, & Jaffe, 1986). However, national surveys show that children who have witnessed violence between their parents are at increased risk of being physically abused themselves (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). Thus, it is possible that some of the adverse developmental consequences attributed to observing violence between adult family members may be due, at least in part, to the children themselves being victims of violence.
Although some research has examined the combined impact of being a witness to parental violence as well as a victim of parental violence, there is no real consensus from the findings of these studies. Some studies suggest that simultaneously being a victim of family violence as well as a witness to family violence confers greater risk of mental health problems on children than does being only a witness to family violence or only a victim of family violence (Hughes, 1988; Hughes, Parkinson, & Vargo, 1989; Sternberg et al., 1993), whereas other research suggests that children who witness family violence are at the same level of risk of evidencing problems as are children who are both witnesses to, and victims of, family violence (Jaffe et al., 1986b). Results of one study suggested that while being a victim of violence was associated with depressive symptomatology, witnessing violence served as a protective factor in that children who had witnessed violence were less likely to report depressive symptomatology (Fitzpatrick, 1993). However, the extent to which victimization and witnessing of violence overlapped in the sample was not reported, making this finding difficult to interpret.
The impact of neighborhood violence on children's emotional and behavioral health recently has been the focus of several research studies. This work has found that children who have witnessed neighborhood violence and …