Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Lim, Caroline. Ph.D., MSW


Background and Purpose: Youth gang membership is on the rise and has become a significant problem within communities and has led to serious consequences, such as high degrees of delinquency and homicide. Prior research has proposed that history of exposure to childhood trauma is a significant risk factor. Objective:This study examined the association between adverse childhood experiences and gang involvement. Methods: This research was a cross-sectional observational study used to gather quantitative data, using a non-random sampling strategy. Participants for this study included adults (i.e., 18 years or older) within the general population, who were literate in English and had access to the internet. A univariate analysis was performed to derive description statistics to summarize participants’ demographic characteristics, exposure to adverse childhood events, and gang involvement. Independent-sample t-test and chi-square analyses were performed to test the association between ACEs and various aspects of gang membership participation. Analyses were performed with SPSS using data from participants with complete information. Results: Results provided the descriptive statistics for 80 participants. The average age of participants at the time of the survey was 30.9 years (SD = 9.0, range=18—53 years). Majority of participants identified as male (n = 48, 60.00%). The sample was ethnically and racially diverse comprising participants who identified as mixed-raced, “other,” and Asian. About one third of participants (n = 28) reported as being involved in a gang. For participants with gang involvement, the average age at the time of joining a gang was 14.6 years (SD = 2.7), (range=10—23) with a duration of 6.2 years (SD = 4.2, range=3—24). The mean ACE score for the study participants was 4.0 (SD=2.5, range=0-9). There was a significant difference in the average ACE score between participants who had gang involvement (M=5.0, SD=2.3) and participants who were never involved in a gang (M=3.5, SD=2.5). Participants with gang involvement reported significantly higher exposures to separation from parent/guardian, domestic violence, household incarceration, and parental substance abuse in comparison to those with no gang involvement. Conclusions: These findings highlight the importance of assessing children for ACEs and determining whether they should be subsequently screened for potential gang involvement based off the number of ACEs reported. These findings may also encourage organizations to train and educate staff on understanding the potential physical, mental, and behavioral implications of ACE exposure, as well as how to refer youth for further assessments and/or treatment to address trauma or early intervention for potential gang involvement.