Theses Doctoral

Possible Selves on Probation: The Role of Future-oriented Identity Beliefs in Promoting Successful Outcomes for Adolescents on Probation

Brewer, Kathryne B.

Probation officers report that motivational processes, such as future-orientation and self-concept, are key factors in program participation and success. This dissertation consists of three studies that explored the role of possible selves, a specific form of future-oriented self-concepts, in promoting successful outcomes for youth who are court-ordered to probation. Using survey and administrative data from the Social Processes in Probation Study (SPPS), the first study explored a hypothesized model of how possible selves characteristics affect adolescent probation outcomes (e.g., probation compliance, recidivism, school engagement). This study found that adolescent possible selves were significantly related to probation outcomes, although not always in the manner expected nor as reported for other adolescent populations. Higher counts of possible selves and their characteristics were consistently associated with poorer outcomes for youth on probation. However, further analyses uncovered a complex network of interactions between the characteristics of possible selves, wherein certain combinations of these characteristics transmitted a mixture of beneficial and risky effects for certain outcomes and under certain conditions.
Building upon the knowledge gained in the first study, the second study examined the relationship between possible selves and probation outcomes within the context of parental support and probation tactics. Three potential pathways were tested: (A) direct effects, independent of external factors; (B) meditated effects on the relationship of external factors on outcomes; and (C) moderated effects on the relationship of external factors on outcomes. Findings of this study did not support either a mediated or moderated pathway for any of the probation outcomes. However, the data suggest an interaction trend between probation tactics and possible selves for the outcome of rearrests, suggesting that supportive probation tactics may be of importance to lowering risk of rearrest for youth with limited possible selves. For the outcomes of rearrest and of school problems, possible selves had a significant direct effect, even after controlling for perceived parental support and probation tactics.
The final study used a grounded theory approach to examine the process through which possible selves translated into behavioral action for adolescents on probation. The data suggest a process involving four phases of action: initial goal development, creation of identity-driven goals, planned action, and sustained progress. During Phase 1, initial goal development occurs as future-oriented thinking emerges following social interactions about the future. During Phase 2, goals integrate with identities to create motivational synergy, helping youth move toward taking action. During Phase 3, goals translate into planned actions through a specific skill set that involves understanding the pathway and steps needed to achieve the goal. During Phase 4, youth engage in sustained pursuit of progress by accessing resources for support, including help to negotiate short-term versus long-term desires, encouragement that bolstered efficacy beliefs, and accountability that communicated that the youth and their goal mattered. Throughout the process, the presence of role models with whom youth identify were important to the development of goals, plans, and perseverance. Implications for practice and policy with this population are discussed.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Social Work
Thesis Advisors
Schwalbe, Craig S.J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 20, 2017