The prevalence of adverse childhood experiences among young people in detention in South Australia

Catia Malvaso3, Paul Delfabbro, Andrew Day

3University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia

Empirical knowledge about the prevalence and interrelatedness of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in young people involved in youth justice systems in Australia is limited. This study examined the prevalence of ACEs in a sample of young people who were detained in youth justice services in an Australian state. It explored how ACEs are interrelated and their associations with violent offending. Assessment data for 2045 young people who spent time in detention between 1995 and 2012 were used. The results indicated that ACEs were common in this population, were highly interrelated, and more prevalent among young people who had convictions for violent offences. Differences in the prevalence of ACEs according to gender and cultural background were evident. Compared to males, females had a higher prevalence of individual ACEs, as well as higher cumulative ACE scores. Non-Aboriginal females had the highest prevalence for physical and sexual abuse, and household conflict, while both Aboriginal males and females reported more family criminality and substance use problems. These findings have important implications for the role of screening for ACEs in offender populations, and the potential benefit of targeting interventions towards addressing the consequences of these traumatic experiences.


Dr Catia Malvaso is a postdoctoral research fellow in the School of Psychology and School of Public Health at the University of Adelaide. Catia completed her PhD in 2017 and was awarded a Dean’s Commendation for Doctoral Thesis Excellence and the Frank Dalziel Prize for Best Psychology Thesis. Her main research interests are in the areas of child protection, youth justice, developmental psychology and developmental and life course criminology. Specifically, she is interested in pathways from child maltreatment to youth and adult offending.

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