Receipt of special education services has been linked to lower aggression (Hart et al., 2017). It is possible that early identification and receipt of services may serve a preventive effect. Students with special education needs who are identified late may be at a particularly high risk for negative outcomes. Cross-sectional research in special education shows that earlier intervention is associated with better student outcomes (Guralnick, 2005). Findings across studies have shown that girls are often older when identified, go longer without educational supports, and girls who are identified later have serious negative outcomes (i.e. drop out, teen pregnancy, and higher lifetime poverty; Arms, Bickett, & Graf, 2008).
This study is the first to longitudinally evaluate the association between timing of special education referral and future juvenile justice involvement. Data come from the Johns Hopkins University Prevention, Intervention, and Research Center’s 2nd Generation dataset (JHU PIRC), a longitudinal study of predominately African American, low income youth (n = 678; 46% female). School administrative data and department of juvenile justice (DJJ) records were used in the current study.
Preliminary analyses evaluated associations between timing of special education service receipt (middle vs. high school) and DJJ records. Twenty-nine percent of students received special education services in middle school with an additional 12% receiving special education services for the first time in high school.
Among kids who never received special education services, 16% had a DJJ record compared to 29% of youth who received services in middle school and 40% of youth who received services for the first time in high school, χ2 (3, N = 445) =17.85, p < .001. Possible moderating effects of gender are being explored and suggests that the proportion of girls who ever received services are equal to boys in the sample, but they are more likely to be identified later than their male peers. This is important given the literature that females are being underrepresented in special education and are not being identified appropriately (Arms, Bickett, & Graf, 2008).
This study provides important evidence of longitudinal associations between timing of special education services and juvenile justice involvement.