Conduct problems among Boston-area youth following the 2013 Marathon bombing: The moderating role of prior violent crime exposure.


A large body of work documents the heavy mental health burden of youth exposure to disasters, but the majority of this research has focused on posttraumatic stress and internalizing symptoms. Less is known about associations between disaster exposure and children’s conduct problems (CPs), or variables that may moderate such relationships. Given well-documented links between CPs and children’s exposure to community violence, youth with greater prior community violence exposure through residence in high-crime areas may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of disaster exposure on CPs. We surveyed Boston-area caregivers (N = 460) in the first 6 months following the 2013 Marathon bombing on their children’s event-related exposures, as well as CPs. To estimate prior violent crime exposure, children’s neighborhoods were assigned corresponding violent crime rates obtained from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s uniform crime reporting statistics. Almost 1 in 6 Boston-area children assessed in this convenience sample showed clinically elevated CPs in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt. Prior violent crime exposure significantly moderated the link between children’s manhunt exposure (but not bombing exposure) and child CPs. Manhunt exposure was related to increased CPs among children living in areas with high and medium (but not low) levels of prior violent crime. Children living in neighborhoods characterized by violent crime may be at particularly increased risk for developing CPs after violent manmade disasters. As most postdisaster child intervention efforts focus on posttraumatic stress, efforts are needed to develop programs targeting child CPs, particularly for youth dwelling in violent neighborhoods.