Exposure to violence: Understanding risk and protective factors among ethnic minority youth

Extant literature has demonstrated associations between exposure to community violence (ECV) and family violence and poorer mental health outcomes among youth including depressive and anxiety symptoms as well as aggressive and antisocial behaviors (Aisenberg & Mennen, 2000; Brady et al., 2008, Ceballo et al., 2003; Ford et al., 2010). Furthermore, it is well documented that when youth experience maladaptive behavioral outcomes, racial/ethnic disparities are prevalent in terms of mental health treatment engagement and utilization (Cauce et al., 2002; Gudiño et al., 2009; Martinez, Gudiño, & Lau, 2013). The present research utilizes preexisting data from the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence III (NatSCEV III) to identify the risk and protective factors that help explain the various pathways to psychological adjustment and mental health service use among youths between the ages of 10 and 17 years, to better inform violence prevention and intervention efforts. Specifically, this research utilizes an ecological framework to assess the relationship between violence exposure and maladaptive behavioral outcomes and identify factors that buffer the adverse effects of violence. Lastly, this study also investigates how problem-type (internalizing versus externalizing) influences mental health service use. The data analytic strategy for this research includes a series of multigroup structural equation models to examine the relationship between violence exposure and psychological adjustment as well as the moderating effects of parent emotional engagement, peer emotional support, and race/ethnicity. The analytic objectives for the current study were achieved using RStudio statistical software (RStudio Team, 2016). The first model examining ECV and parent emotional engagement via a multigroup design indicated excellent fit to the data, χ2 = 153.154, df = 42, p < .001, CFI = .955, RMSEA = .069. Similarly, the ECV and peer support model also suggested an excellent fit to the data, χ2 = 184.287, df = 42, p < .001, CFI = .936, RMSEA = .078. The family violence and parent engagement model and the family violence and peer support model both indicated good fit to the data, χ2 = 267.027, df = 42, p < .001, CFI = .929, RMSEA = .095, χ2 = 287.734, df = 42, p < .001, CFI = .913, RMSEA = .099, respectively. Racial/ethnic differences in service use based on problem-type were assessed via comparisons between fully constrained models and unconstrained models for each of the multigroup models proposed. As hypothesized, findings indicated across all racial/ethnic groups that ECV and family violence were associated with increases in internalizing and externalizing symptoms. Peer emotional support was only found to moderate the relationship between family violence and externalizing symptoms among White youth. Internalizing symptoms were significantly associated with mental health service use, but only for White youth. Integration of these findings are significant for the development of policy, theory building, and treatment services to better inform violence prevention and intervention efforts. Implications and future directions are discussed.