Do adolescent risk assessment tools capture self-reported reasons for desistance? An examination of the content validity of protective factors

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Protective factors
Risk assessment
Content analysis
Content validity

Although prior research has examined the predictive validity of risk assessment tools, research on their content validity is limited. The present study used a novel approach to assess evidence for the content validity of three adolescent risk assessment tools that include protective factors: the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY; Borum et al., 2006), the Structured Assessment of Protective Factors for Violence Risk – Youth Version (SAPROF-YV; de Vries Robbé et al., 2015), and the Short-Term Assessment of Risk and Treatability: Adolescent Version (START:AV; Viljoen et al., 2014). This study investigated whether the protective factors included on these tools captured information that people with a history of adolescent offending (n = 103) described as relevant to their desistance from offending. Desistance criteria followed previous qualitative research and included self-reported desistance for a period of at least two years. Data was collected from two samples, through an in-person interview study and an online survey study. Participants were asked open-ended questions about their desistance, followed by direct questions based on the specific protective factors on the tools. Responses were coded using qualitative directed content analyses based on the tools’ operational definitions for each item. Findings generally provided support for the content validity of the tools. Responses were also coded inductively to identify additional reasons for desistance that were not captured by the tools. Although four other themes emerged, they may be partially captured under existing items or may be included as case-specific factors. Due to the debate about the distinctiveness of protective and risk factors, this study also examined whether factors are described in terms of the presence of a protective factor or in terms of the removal of a risk factor. Reasons for desistance were primarily discussed in terms of the presence of protective factors. Overall the findings provide evidence to support the item content included on the SAVRY, SAPROF-YV, and START:AV, and highlight the value of considering client/patient perspectives in risk assessment research.

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Jodi Viljoen
Arts & Social Sciences: Department of Psychology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.