Searching for the Best Interventions for Troubled Youths Essay

Juvenile Delinquency

Are individual factors or family factors more important when providing interventions for delinquent youths?

This paper will answer the question first, and then provide the backup for the decision on which factor plays a leading role. Obviously individual factors play an important role in determining why a youth offends; and peer influences play a strong role as well. But deeper research reveals that it is the family situation, including what happens when the child is in the womb and through its early growth period, that is more important to take into consideration when determining what intervention is potentially more appropriate.

According to a report on delinquency prevention and intervention — commissioned by the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) — there are four risk factors that have an influence on whether a juvenile will engage in delinquent behaviors. The first two — individual risk factors and family risk factors — are the most widely accepted reasons for a young person getting into trouble with law enforcement. The second two are peer risk factors and school and community risk factors, which clearly come into play but in the literature available it would seem that numbers three and four are not as compelling as the first two.

Research presented by the NCSL shows that a child is impacted negatively in the womb when brain development is stifled or otherwise harmed by the mother’s smoking or consumption of alcohol. The brain develops “neural connections” that regulate responses to stress while the child is in the womb and through the “first 33 months of life”; and if a child is reared in a “chaotic or abusive environment,” that child is more apt to have “an over-reactive ‘flight-or-fight’ reflex” (NCSL, 2009). A child that struggles with self-control in a stressful situation has “…a greater inclination to violence” (NCSL).

Moreover, family risk factors come into play when there has been a history of neglect, violence, and chaos in the home; these factors means that the likelihood of juvenile arrest is increased by “59%; adult arrest by 27%; and violent crime by 29%” (NCSL). Another study referenced by the NCSL shows that when children are victims of violence in the family, they are 24% likely to become a violent person or at least engage in violent acts. That study indicated that a third of children who were victims of child abuse or neglect “…are likely to subject their own children to abuse” (NCSL).

And when a child is a victim of severe abuse, he or she may develop post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), which becomes a barrier later in life to making appropriate friendships and relationships (NCSL). Once again, there is solid evidence that family risk factors play a very important role in the outcomes for youths.

Meanwhile Michael Shader writes in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention publication that prenatal and perinatal “complications” are linked with “later delinquent and criminal behavior” (Shader, 2009). When the child is subjected to prenatal and perinatal issues, that can lead to “…a range of health problems that negatively influence development”; and a study by Kandel and Mednick in 1991 determined that 80% of violent offenders “…rated high in delivery complications compared with 47% of non-offenders” (Shader, p. 5). Again, this goes back to the family and the mother’s influence when the child is brought into the world.

As to the family, the risk factors include: a) poor parenting skills; b) family size; c) discord in the home; d) child maltreatment; and e) antisocial parents. The author references a study of 250 boys who were ten years old: “strongest predictors of later convictions for violent offenses (up to the age of 45)” included bad parental leadership, conflict between parents, aggression towards children, and “harsh, punitive discipline” (Shader, p. 6).

What type of intervention is most effective? According to J. Robert Flores with the U.S. Department of Justice, interpersonal skills training, “individual counseling” and “behavioral program” interventions and parent-child treatment programs have been proven to be effective interventions for violent juvenile offenders (Flores, 2003).

Discuss risk and protective factors for juvenile delinquency. Choose three treatment strategies. Identify how these interventions serve to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors for youth.

One intervention strategy that is being used is the Adolescent Diversion Project (ADP), developed at Michigan State University. This program takes young people that have…

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