Cognitive-behavioral treatment for antisocial youth in residential care

Results of twelve studies, five RCTs and seven non-RCTs including a control group, conducted in the USA, Canada and Great Britain suggest that Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT) in residential settings is more effective than standard treatment in reducing criminal behavior in adolescents twelve months after release from the institution. The results are consistent across studies although the studies vary in quality. There is no evidence that the results of CBT are better than those of alternative treatments, i.e. treatments other than CBT.

Authors' conclusions: 

CBT seems to be a little more effective than standard treatment for youth in residential settings. The effects appear about one year after release, but there is no evidence of more long-term effects or that CBT is any better than alternative treatments.

Read the full abstract...

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) appears to be effective in the treatment of antisocial behavior both in adolescents and adults. Treatment of antisocial behavior in youth in residential settings is a challenge since it usually involves more serious behavioral problems and takes place in a closed setting. The motivation for change is usually low and there is little possibility to address the maintenance of any behavioral changes following release.


To investigate the effectiveness of CBT in reducing recidivism of adolescents placed in secure or non-secure residential settings. A secondary objective was to see if interventions that focus particularly on criminogenic needs are more effective than those with a more general focus on cognitions and behavior.

Search strategy: 

We searched a number of databases including: CENTRAL 2005 (Issue 2), MEDLINE 1966 to May 2005, Sociological Abstracts 1963 to May 2005, ERIC 1966 to November 2004, Dissertation Abstracts International 1960s to 2005. We contacted experts in the field concerning current research.

Selection criteria: 

Both randomised controlled trials and studies with non-randomized comparison groups were included. Participants had to be young people aged 12-22 and placed in a residential setting for reasons of antisocial behavior.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers independently reviewed 93 titles and abstracts; 35 full-text reports were retrieved and data from 12 trials eligible for inclusion were extracted and entered into RevMan. Results were synthesized using a random effects model, due to the significant heterogeneity across included studies. Results are reported at 6, 12 and 24 months post-treatment, and presented in graphical (forest plots) form. Odds ratios are used throughout and intention-to-treat analyses were made with drop-outs imputed proportionally. Pooled estimates were weighted with inverse variance methods and 95% confidence intervals were used.

Main results: 

The results for 12 months follow-up show that although single studies generally show no significant effects, the results for pooled data are clearly significant in favor of CBT compared to standard treatment with an odds ratio of 0,69. The reduction in recidivism is about 10% on the average. There is no evidence of effects after 6 or 24 months or when CBT is compared to alternative treatments.