The role of individual protective factors in predicting youth recidivism

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University of New Brunswick


Youth criminal behaviour has significant implications for both public safety and youth functioning; thus, effective methods to manage youth risk and promote rehabilitation are imperative. Risk assessment aims to assess the factors underlying a youth’s criminal behaviour in order to make informed decisions about risk management and intervention. However, risk assessment has been criticized for not considering protective factors (i.e., characteristics of the youth or his/her environment that reduce the likelihood of offending). There is limited research on individual characteristics of youth that act as protective factors for recidivism and results of available research are inconsistent, both of which limit the assessment of individual protective factors and their integration into risk assessment. The current dissertation focused on the role of individual protective factor domains in youth risk assessment. Research objectives included examining whether individual protective factors across personal, social, emotional, and cognitive domains predicted recidivism and whether these protective factor domains moderated the relationship between risk factors and multiple markers of recidivism. Participants included 173 youth (aged 12 to 18 years) who received a court-ordered risk assessment through the IWK Youth Forensic Services. Recidivism in the form of new charges was assessed over an average follow-up period of approximately seven years. A significant proportion of youth committed general (87%) and violent (65%) recidivism. Although gender and youth risk level were both significant predictors of general recidivism, higher cognitive ability was the only protective factor that emerged as a significant individual predictor of general recidivism. No support for a moderating effect of the protective factor domains was found. This study contributes to our understanding of the relationship between individual protective factors and youth recidivism. Specifically, better cognitive ability is a promising protective factor for general recidivism. However, resiliency domains, at least as conceptualized and measured in the current study, were more consistent with specific responsivity factors than protective factors. These results have important implications for risk assessment and rehabilitative practices for justice involved youth, including suggestions for how practitioners can best utilize protective factors as part of risk assessment and rehabilitative interventions.