Kieran McCartan, PhD
At ATSA 2013 I saw Nicole Pittman talk, she was discussing her report “Raised on the Registry” which highlighted the impact of disclosing juvenile sex offender information in the USA. Nicole’s report struck me as it highlighted a very punitive practice with massive societal community and individual impacts; particularly as we do not publically disclosure the information of sex offenders, especially that of youths, in the UK in the same way as the USA. I thought that the recently published article by Harris, Walfield, Shields and Latourneau entitled “Collateral Consequences of Juvenile Sex Offender Registration and Notification: Results from a survey of treatment providers” (Sexual Abuse: A Journal of Research and Treatment, 28, 770-790) was a good counterpoint to Nicole’s report. The article by Harris et al highlighted, again, the negative impact that community notification of juvenile sex offender information has on the person in question as well as their community but this time from treatment providers. The insight that that treatment providers brings to this argument is important as it can help shape policy and practice in this arena, with policy makers hopefully being more inclined to listen and support change. The Harris et al paper also reinforces the importance, as well as negative consequences, of language, social policy, risk management and politics in how we deal with sexual harm (“sex offender”, “Juvenile sex offender” etc), which was also highlighted in other 2016 SAJRT papers ( Zgoba et al; Harris& Socia; Hoing, Bogaerts & Vogelvang). The Harris et al paper refocused me for 2017, it remaindered be that there is still a distance to be travelled in getting realistic sexual harm policy and practice across the board for high profile offenders (i.e., middle aged, white child sexual abusers), never mind what may be considered by sections of society as “fringe” offenders (i.e., juveniles, females, learning disabled).
David Prescott, LISCW
For this year, I am going well outside the usual scope of our “best of” series. It may seem off topic, but I think this study by Goldberg, Miller, Nielsen, Rousmaniere, Whipple & Hoyt called “Do Psychotherapists Improve with Time and Experience?” (Journal of Counseling Psychology, 63,1-11) is very important to know about. Here’s why:
Goldberg and his colleagues studied whether therapist experience is linked to improved outcomes for clients in general psychotherapy (i.e. not abuse-related). They followed 6,591 patients seen in individual psychotherapy by 170 therapists over nearly five years. To date, no large-scale longitudinal study has assessed whether the amount of professional experience of the therapist would improve outcomes over time.
The study found that psychotherapy was effective overall. Unfortunately, therapists did not improve with experience. In fact, therapists became slightly less effective over time (although the authors note that the level of this decrease was extremely small). The authors also note that these results contrast with clinician self-reported experiences with clients. In short, therapists believe they become more effective over time; these results suggest otherwise.
Clearly, effective treatment of people who sexually abuse is a matter of public safety as well as a means to help individual clients manage their lives. This study should serve as a warning that practitioners can easily be lulled into a sense of complacency about their effectiveness; confidence can improve across one’s career, competence may not. In our work, we should always remember that getting better at avoiding mistakes is not the same as becoming more effective at developing the clinical skills that lead to successful treatment completion for our clients.
Jon Brandt, LISCW
This year, my pick for the most noteworthy journal article of 2016 is an easy one: “Quantifying the Decline in Juvenile Sexual Recidivism Rates,” (Psychology, Public Policy, and Law; July 18, 2016). Michael Caldwell (University of Wisconsin, Madison) reviewed 106 international recidivism studies involving more than 33,000 juveniles who have sexually offended, and determined the mean five-year sexual recidivism rate for offenses committed over the last 30 years is less than 5%. Looking at the most recent 33 studies, since 2000, Caldwell determined a mean sexual recidivism rate of 2.75%, and, “This suggests that the most current sexual recidivism rate is likely to be below 3%.” Another important finding was that follow-up periods beyond 36 months did not significantly increase recidivism rates. The implications of this study are significant and are the subject of a SAJRT blog 8/12/16.
Current policies and practices driving the assessment, treatment, and management of juveniles with sexual offenses are still predicated on beliefs that they are likely to sexually reoffend. If, as a group, 97% of juveniles don’t sexually reoffend, what’s the takeaway from this research?
Caldwell’s research also indicates that general delinquency IS positively correlated to sexual reoffending, and even with sexual recidivism below 3%, the Risk-Needs-Responsivity model is still useful in determining NEEDS and RESPONSIVITY. It is likely, that a small percentage of juvenile offenders have high needs, however, perhaps the seven out of ten juveniles who do not have concurring general delinquency, might benefit from some psycho-sexual education, and otherwise deserve a speedy exit from the juvenile court system. For the majority of juveniles with sex offenses, intensive treatment, long periods of supervision, and onerous conditions of probation, are essentially unwarranted, and may even set them up to fail, e.g. sex offender registration and notification laws are not only unfounded, they are profoundly counterproductive. Public perceptions and engrained practices die hard, but hopefully, professionals throughout the juvenile justice system will use this conclusive research to guide sound dispositions.