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Preventing Juvenile Delinquency

Cholee has a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and has volunteered her time in juvenile group homes.

What can we as a society do to prevent and reduce delinquency?

What can we as a society do to prevent and reduce delinquency?

What Is Delinquency Prevention?

Delinquency prevention seeks to redirect youth who are considered at-risk for delinquency or who have committed a delinquent offense from becoming deeper involved in the juvenile justice system.

Juvenile delinquency can be a problem for any neighborhood, community, state, or country. No town no matter how small, is immune to delinquency. Many people think these children are lost to the system. They get picked up for doing something stupid, get put into a probation program or a group home and are destined for jail or worse prison. Most see delinquency as the gateway to a life of crime and a prison sentence. However, it does not have to end that way for our troubled youth.

There are people that care for our youth and our communities. People who want to see our troubled children make something better for themselves. Social workers, judges, and parents, are not the only people who should be helping these youth. The young are our future, we need to protect them and raise them into society instead of shunning them and forcing them into a life of crime.

There are many programs today that are meant to help our delinquent youth. Those that are rehabilitative in nature are less successful as these youth have already turned to crime and have already created bad habits and antisocial behaviors. Programs that take a preventative approach are much more successful and tend to have a higher positive response from communities.

Who Is Affected by Juvenile Delinquency?

Every single person living on this planet is affected by juvenile crime. From the perpetrator to the victim and everyone in between, we are all affected by the actions of delinquent youth. While the number of cases regarding juvenile delinquency has gone down, there is still much to do in the way of prevention and rehabilitation. We as a society are all affected and therefore we should all be helping to aid in the care, prevention, and rehabilitation of our youth. For our youth are the future of this world.

It is important for us to continually update our programs that are meant to help our troubled children. We need to figure out what works so we can reprogram and continually monitor our systems and remove those programs that are not working or are causing more harm than good.

We need parents, teachers, and neighbors to believe in the children of the future, provide discipline, and advocate for all youth, especially those who come from a troubled background. With positive role models and adult involvement in their life, children are less likely to develop problem behaviors and take part in delinquent activities. Becoming discouraged or treating our youth like they don't matter or have fallen too far to be saved from a life of crime, is harmful to those children and ultimately to the community.

Troubled youth need to know they are cared for, that people love them, and that they can make a difference in this world. Believe in the youth in your life. Show them they matter and that they can make a difference.

Whether you're a parent, aunt, uncle, or just a neighbor in a community with children we all have a responsibility to raise the children of our future. We may not have direct contact with these children daily, but how we treat them is going to help shape who they become and how they look at the world.

Prevention Methods for Parents and the Community

As parents, it's our responsibility to teach our children what we expect of them. By creating rules, the knowledge of what we expect from our children along with society norms will be clear to them. Children are less likely to disobey and start problem behaviors when they know the rules and have consistent repercussions when the rules are broken. Parents who know their children's friends, are involved in their school work, and extracurricular activities are more likely to have children who follow the rules and are less likely to act out. Children are less likely to act out when they know what is expected of them.

Encourage your children to get involved in the community whether it be through community sports, or volunteer work such as community service. Children invested in the community are less likely to damage property, burglarize houses, or steal.

As neighbors and members of the community it is our job to fight for the troubled youth. Creating drop in centers and community involvement for children is a great way to fight the desire to start problem behaviors. With such places as drop in centers, children have a place to go after school. It allows them to hang out with friends and others in the community in a positive and healthy environment. They can get their school work done and participate in a variety of sports, crafts, and games. There is something for everyone and with role models abound there is someone to support and uplift them as well. When children are allowed to explore and find their passions, they are more likely to engage in these activities rather than destructive behaviors.

For those children who don't have positive parent involvement, we can provide positive role models and look after children who are more likely to exhibit problem behaviors. It may not be our responsibility to take care of these children, but these children are our future and we should be happy to provide them with the things they need to succeed and to create for themselves a better future.

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Head Start and Home Visitation Programs

These programs are highly useful for families and children, and have been proven to greatly decrease high risks for youth who have participated in these programs. These programs work because they get to the root of the problems and lessen the risk factors that would affect these children negatively. Head start for example starts from birth and continues on through childhood investing in the child's development, education, and future.

The sole focus of both these programs is on the child's life, which allows these programs to tend to the need of the children rather than trying to change who that child is. These types of programs can create a better quality of life for children in inner cities, troubled neighborhoods, and those that are just living in not ideal family situations, which will allow these children to grow up in a home with less risk factors.

Head Start, for example, is a program that underprivileged children and their families can utilize to increase their school performance as well as their self esteem, social behavior, and physical health. By increasing desires and behaviors in young children to do well, we can draw them toward a life of success and away from a life of crime simply by removing high-risk factors.

These types of programs are widely successful simply because they remove most of the risk factors young children face that would lead them toward a life of crime.

Big Brother Big Sister and Other Community Mentoring Groups

Big Brother Big Sister is a phenomenal community group. This one on one mentoring facility provides support for at-risk youth from the ages of 6 up to 18 years of age. Big brother big sister works by creating lasting bonds between youth and their mentors. Mentored youth have a higher probability of better relationships with their parents and peers, higher self-esteem, as well as have a network of emotional support.

Mentoring groups can come in a variety of different forms; however, those that work are going to be the programs that vastly reduce the risks that contribute to delinquency. Mentoring programs through schools and the community are needed to help build students up and provide a healthy, and constructive place for them to go for help and support.


Group Homes for Juveniles

In theory, group homes sound like a good idea right? A home where the delinquent youth can learn from their mistakes and change their attitudes and behaviors. A home where they can find role models, new passions, or interests. However, most group homes are not suited for the youth it houses. Most juveniles are sent away to a group home outside of their community, forcing them to be away from family and the people they care about. Most delinquents feed off of each other, meaning if one child is acting out others will join in creating more havoc in the home. Putting a mixed variety of delinquents into one group home could also result in a learning of new ways to commit crimes while teaching tips and tricks of the trade so they do not get caught the next time.

NIMBY, better known as Not In My Backyard, refers to group homes in communities and how the residents of those communities feel about new group homes being built in their neighborhoods. Many people are against group homes in their neighborhood, because they believe the troubled youth living there are destined for a life in and out of the criminal justice system and ultimately jail or prison. These same people feel these youth are going to disrupt their neighborhood and corrupt their children.

This kind of mentality is harmful and hurtful for those children in group homes. These children need people to believe in them and to have faith in their abilities. Forcing them away from their families and community can have a negative effect on them. Although they may live in a problem neighborhood, that does not mean that those children cannot learn and change in that same neighborhood. NIMBY is another reason group homes struggle to provide quality and life-changing care for our youth.

It is important for all of us to believe in our youth. Despite what they may have done, our belief in their ability to change is a powerful one. By teaching and helping our youth develop social skills and an attachment to positive role models we can provide them with the tools and confidence they need to succeed.

Finally, the staff rarely represents the population. If your juvenile population consists of African Americans or Hispanics, you need African Americans or Hispanics working at the group home. If your population consists of Caucasians or females you need to represent that in your staff. Most group home staff however does not represent their juvenile population and just as many homes have a high staff turn over rate. Why does this matter you ask? It's simple, if the staff does not represent the population, you can be sure that the children will have a hard time respecting and looking up to those staff members. An adolescent Hispanic male will have a much harder time finding anything in common with a Caucasian female college student. Resulting in disrespect from both parties.

In order for group homes to work effectively, staff and children need to respect each other. The staff has to believe that the juveniles are capable of change and deserve a second chance. While the juveniles need to be able to find a proper staff member that they can look up to and model their behavior after.

My Experience Volunteering at a Group Home

I volunteered in a group home where each resident lived at least two hours away from their family. There was no group home closer for them to go to. However, many of those residence's came from problem inner city communities and the judge thought it best for them to be in a new environment where they could create new friendships and develop a greater respect for their community. Those residents did not benefit from being taken away from their family, mainly because they where forced to be in a group home for stupid mistakes they had made. Their resentment toward the judges that moved them was very clear, and they were very open about how much they hated their new school and how hard it was to make new friends when basically everyone knew they were in a group home. Most of them only had each other, because the students didn't want anything to do with them simply because the only thing they knew is that they got in trouble and were in a group home.

During my time at the group home the youth consisted of three African American males and one Hispanic. The staff was mostly Caucasian Female, I saw two males however both were Caucasian as well. The staff had no diversity and no respect for the youth living there. Most of the staff were college students trying to earn enough money to get through college. Some of these staff members were not even interested in the criminal justice field. The youth in this group home knew this, and as a result you could tell they did not care about the staff or the home they were in.

It was hard at first to gain the respect of those youth, but I managed in less time than the staff. Why? I believed in them. I learned about their culture, where they came from. I showed them that they could change and that there was something different out there for them if they wanted it. Most importantly I listened to them, and I cared. I took the time to play board games, and learn about what was important to them.

One of the youth was not a very good reader and would ask me to help him with his book reports. I would read the book aloud to him and he would type up a report. One day he chose a book he didn't think I would be able to read or understand as it had quite a bit of Spanish in it. I surprised him by knowing some of the words and even being able to describe what exactly a quinceañera was. The look of amazement in his eyes stays with me to this day. Something changed inside him when he realized I wasn't just putting on a show. One of the other youth even took the time to do an art project that involved me. To this day I still remember some of their names. The youth in that home had a huge impact on me, as I can only hope I had on them in my short time there. I attribute my success at this group home to the control theory of delinquency.

Control Theory of Delinquency

Travis Hischri's control theory of delinquency is one of the greatest theories anyone could use for working with juveniles.This theory is not all inclusive as no theory can be, however it has great points and when compared to what juveniles are looking for, this theory matches up pretty well.

The control theory of delinquency takes a sociological look at delinquency rather than a psychological approach. His theory has four main points to keep most children from heading down a road of delinquency. Control theory of delinquency is based on four variables, commitment, involvement, attachment, and belief. He believes that children that have solid and positive ties will be less likely to engage in delinquent behavior.

  • Involvement in the community or school through clubs, sports, or volunteer work will greatly reduce delinquency. Children involved in the community are less likely not only to destroy it through graffiti or vandalism, but will keep an eye on the community and discourage those who are looking to engage in destructive behavior.
  • Commitment means investing time, energy, and themselves into a certain activity such as schooling. The idea of this variable is that every time a deviant opportunity arises they will weigh their options and choose against it in order to preserve the commitments they have in other activities.
  • Attachments refers to significant others and positive parental role models that encourage and teach socially acceptable behaviors. These attachments provide children with people who respect and encourage them. With little or no attachments children do not have anyone to keep them accountable for their behavior. In return they also have no one to disappoint if they chose a life of crime.
  • Beliefs whether in a religion or faith or simply just a set of morals will greatly increase the respect and acceptance they have for set rules. Children with rules are less likely to want to break the rules than children who have no rules at all. Children with little to no rules or who have no set of morals push buttons and test parents and elders to see just how far they can go.

If you would like an in-depth look at Travis Hirschi's theory, this graduate paper goes into great detail and includes his own findings and research. In this paper you will also find research completed by Hirschi and other well-known theorists.

Church retreat

Church retreat

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, there is no one way that works. Criminal behavior in children has been thoroughly researched and the common conclusion is prevention. However, combining multiple theories with love, care, attention, and discipline is the best way to reduce unwanted behavior and raise respectful and caring youth. Not one theory will work for every juvenile delinquent or every type of crime. The best way is providing programs that prevent delinquency and remove those high-risk factors from a child's life.

The best thing for youth that are bound for a troubled future, is a community and people who care about them and their future. Investing in community and drop-in centers for youth is a great start to involving them in the community and each other. Creating attachments and involvements for children is a way to prevent them from even reaching out to crime as a way to belong.

There is still much research that needs to be done in regards to preventing juveniles from turning to delinquent behavior, however in the mean time we need to focus on what we know works and continue to create better programs for our at-risk children.

Further Reading

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2012 Cholee Clay

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