The research group examines serious problems in children, adolescents, and young adults and families that warrant immediate or future judicial intervention enforced by civil, administrative or criminal courts.
The question of whether and, if so, under what circumstances the state should intervene in families and other educationally relevant contexts, confronts Forensic Child and Youth Care Sciences with major ethical, societal, and judicial issues. Therefore, Forensic Child and Youth Care Sciences are also rooted in legal science, sociology, criminology and developmental and clinical psychology.
The main aims of the research group are:
Objective & relevance
This project aims to contribute to improved assessment of risks, needs and learning abilities of juvenile offenders, to ultimately improve their referral to tailored treatment to prevent re-offending. To this end, we develop and test a virtual reality (VR) assessment including neurobiological measurements. As opposed to self-report questionnaires and interviews that measure what an individual indicates to feel and do, which is prone to social desirability bias, VR assessments have the potential to measure actual feelings, thoughts and reactions of juveniles when exposed to situations that may evoke antisocial behavior. Accompanying neurobiological measurements may enable the identification of biological factors underlying antisocial behavior, which may further guide diagnostics and treatment.
The assessment developed within this project includes a baseline neurobiological measurement to assess basal functioning of the autonomic nervous system and exposure to different situations in VR during which behavioral reactions are observed and neurobiological reactivity is assessed, in addition to youth’s reflections on their thoughts, feelings and behavior in the various situations. The assessment takes approximately 30-40 minutes and is administered by a trained professional. To study the applicability and validity of the assessment, youth report their experiences with the assessment and complete a self-report questionnaire including validated instruments to assess antecedents of delinquent behavior and socially desirable responding.
A first pilot study of the assessment, conducted in a juvenile detention center between August and October 2020, is finished. Most youth (74% of 29 youth, mean age 17.5) were positive about the assessment. They found the situations in VR to be quite to very realistic and indicated to have reacted as they would do in real life. Preliminary findings suggest that VR and self-report assessments provide different views on behavior, and are differentially associated with social desirability. A second study focusing on implementation of the assessment in residential as well as non-residential care for juvenile offenders is expected to take place in 2021-2022.