September 30, 2011

Future orientation a major factor in juvenile competency

Photo credit: Richard Ross, Juvenile in Justice
Unlike adults, most children and adolescents who are found incompetent to stand trial are not psychotic. Rather, they have cognitive impairments. And, in a factor gaining greater attention from courts and legislatures, they are often immature.

Indeed, developmental maturity is so important that in California and some other states, juvenile competency evaluators are now required by law to assess for it.

That’s easier said than done. After all, what is immaturity, and how does it affect competency?

In a study just published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, four scholars state that one big chunk of maturity is future orientation, or the extent to which a youngster takes long-range consequences into account in making decisions. One reason that youngsters engage in risky behaviors, the theory goes, is because they are present-focused and lack a more mature perspective on the future.

Testing the influence of future orientation on competency, the researchers found that the well-established relationship between age and competency is moderated by a child's degree of future orientation.

Further, competency is particularly "fragile" in immature children. In other words, smaller deficits in cognitive abilities are more likely to influence competency in immature children as opposed to their more mature peers.

I recommend the full article, by Aaron Kivisto, Todd Moore, Paula Fite and Bruce Seidner. It is available for free online, HERE.

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