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Shortly after the revision of the Youth Criminal Code in January 2007, the « Swiss study for clarification and goal-attainment in youth welfare and juvenile justice institutions (German translation: Modellversuch Abklärung und Zielerreichung in stationären Massnahmen [MAZ.]) » was established. The main goal of MAZ. was to examine whether standardized instruments (e.g., for mental health problems) are eligible for clarification in the field of inpatient youth welfare services. At the same time, epidemiological information regarding their problems was gathered.

The project was carried out in two phases. In the first phase (between 2007 and 2009), only participants from social-educational institutions in the German-speaking part of Switzerland took part. In the second phase (between 2009 and 2011), the study was extended to the French-speaking and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland. In total, our research team was able to cross sectionally and longitudinally assess a large sample of 592 young people (age range between 6 and 26 years) in 64 residential care institutions in Switzerland.

All participants as well as their social pedagogical supervisors answered various computer based questionnaires. A year later, they were asked to complete part of these questionnaires again. In addition, interviews were conducted at baseline to obtain comprehensive diagnostic information. With this, on the one hand, statements could be made about the health state of these children, adolescents and young adults in residential care. On the other hand, it was possible to examine their development and whether their goals were reached over the course of the study. The computer based procedures are still used in many social-educational institutions and are available via the EQUALS program.

Results of the study showed that MAZ. participants had significantly higher rates of psychological burden than young people in the general population. For example, three out of four met the criteria for at least one mental disorder, the co-existence of mental disorders was the rule rather than the exception and about four in five had at least on traumatic experience. Fortunately, the participants showed an increase in their overall competences as well as a decrease in mental distress after over the one-year course of our study. The final report of the MAZ. study can be downloaded here.