Colorado State University to Study Best Treatments for Juvenile Sexual Offenders

A Colorado State University study will look at whether current treatments for juvenile sexual offenders decrease the likelihood of those juveniles committing new sexual offenses.

Many child welfare professionals believe that juvenile sexual offenders can be treated, but current programs are based on strategies to treat adult sexual offenders and not the developmental needs of adolescents.

The review of existing research will be conducted by Marc Winokur, director of the Social Work Research Center in the School of Social Work at Colorado State. The study will investigate the impact of different treatments or the lack of treatment on juveniles who commit sexual offenses between the ages of 14 and 17.  

"In general, research shows that sexual offenders in this age group are unlikely to commit additional sexual crimes as adults whether they are treated or not," Winokur said. "However, without proper treatment, even juveniles who do not reoffend sexually may commit other nonviolent or violent crimes. Researchers believe juveniles who complete treatment are less likely to reoffend than are juveniles who do not receive or complete treatment, but more research is needed to determine whether or not that belief is factual."

Winokur also believes that it is important for society and for children and families impacted by juvenile sexual offenses to know what works for this population.

While much research has been conducted on treating adult sexual offenders, very little research has been done on best practices for treating juveniles. Current programs treat juvenile offenders like adults, such as programs that require registration as a sexual offender. However, adult-oriented programs may not be effective in dealing with the scope of problem juvenile behavior.

Juvenile sexual offenders usually fall into two classes: those who act inappropriately – often due to general immaturity – and those who engage in deviant behavior. Placing juveniles into adult treatment programs for behaving immaturely probably isn’t effective, Winokur says.  

Some juveniles who are required under current systems to enter the legal and juvenile treatment systems may be there because they snapped a female’s bra strap. Requiring one of those youth to register as a sexual offender, which can happen under current treatment structures, may be too harsh because it marks the youth for life.

"The findings of this study will assist legislators and practitioners in providing the resources and ongoing support necessary to deliver effective programs tailored specifically to juveniles," Winokur said.

The review will look at all types of treatment and at how different treatment lengths and settings work for certain groups of adolescent offenders.

The Colorado State study also will review other options available to juvenile offenders, such as community-based programs for lower-risk offenders that allow them to be reunified with their families and reintegrated into the community.

The study is funded by 12 Colorado counties and the Colorado Department of Human Services.