Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency
It is often considered that the majority of children try to protest and to become an opposition for the rest of the world in their teenage years. This period of time is difficult both for the teenagers and for their parents, and it is crucial to start working on this problem early in order to protect the child from the fatal mistakes. The current paper aims at investigating into one of the most urgent problems of modern juvenile justice system, which is the juvenile delinquency. The two main approaches to coping with the problem are analyzed. They are the program of early intervention and working with minor status offenders. The purpose of this research is to show that these programs are actively applied in practice and lead to positive transformation of children, turning them away from the anti-social behavior.
Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency
Juvenile delinquency is among the most urgent problems of contemporary American society. It affects the families where such children and teenagers live, their teachers, neighbors, and, what is even more important, these children themselves. Delinquent conduct often leads to injuries, criminal behavior in future, incarceration, lack of education and, as the result poor professional perspectives, drug or alcohol dependency. Only intervention into the upbringing process at the earliest stages can prevent possible delinquent behavior. There are many programs that aim at decreasing the delinquency rate among the juveniles, but the problem still exists despite the active work of teachers and psychologists. It is necessary to understand the main trends in preventing the juvenile delinquency and their application in order to comprehend the present and the potential future situation regarding the problem. Two main approaches to coping with juvenile delinquency will be analyzed - the early intervention program and intervening with status offenders. These approaches are differed by the time they are applied. It is possible to assume that the earlier the problem is addressed, the lower delinquency rate will be.
There are several types of programs that are actively implemented nowadays. It is possible to divide them into those that are applied after the delinquent behavior occurred and into those that try to prevent the antisocial behavior before it has fully developed. Early intervention into the development of a child reduces the chances of further criminal traits. When the delinquency is already the part of the child's character, it becomes problematic to change the existing behavioral patterns.
It is necessary to understand the risk factors that lead to the development of the antisocial character in the majority of cases. Knowing the roots might make the process of eliminating the problem easier and more effective. The four main factors of risk that determine the delinquent behavior are family, individual, peer as well as school and community risk factors. The family can influence the negative development of a child due to poverty, violence, maltreatment, teenage parenthood, family size (both families with many children and a single parent), divorce, or antisocial behavior of the parents. Individual risk factors feature such issues like problems with mental health, poor cognitive development, or hyperactivity. Peer factor is the bad influence of the company of children and teenagers of the same age, who are already involved in the delinquent behavior. Access to weapons, poor academic performance, and low cognitive abilities are the main characteristics of the community and school risk factors (Koffman et al., 2009). It is difficult to find a child whose antisocial behavior is determined by the only factor. In the majority of cases, the groups of risk are interconnected and one factor is determined by the existence of another. Such interconnections emphasize the need to approach the problem of juvenile delinquency in complex (Olds et al., 2009).
There are also positive factors that help a child and a teenager to avoid delinquent behavior. An ability to talk about the problems in the family, integration into the community, high academic performance, and positive school attendance help make the risks minimal. The example of parents is essential in becoming descent person. As the Bible says: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word (Psalm 119:9)”, “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways” (Proverbs 23:26). Young people do not have enough wisdom to cope with the problems that appear in their lives for the first time. If they make a mistake, it does not necessarily mean that they are evil. Perhaps, they need more wise supervision from the adults.
Both components, the negative and the positive ones, are considered by the specialists in applying the programs of intervention and prevention of juvenile delinquency. The main point in preventing the criminal behavior of a child or a teenager is fighting with the risk factors and creating a positive atmosphere for further improvement (Koffman et al., 2009).
The first approach to coping with the delinquent behavior is called early intervention program. It can start even before the birth of a child and it continues until the early years of adolescence. It is considered one of the most important periods in life, because the main traits of character, the person's reactions, and values are formed during the first years of life (Koffman et al., 2009). It is written in the Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Indeed, it is more effective to start working on formation of life ideals from the earliest age, because a child is more likely to listen to adults than a teenager, who considers him/herself to be clever enough to know life. In addition, the practical experience shows that those individuals who received help later need to make more efforts to overcome the delinquent traits of personality, because they were already formed psychologically (Olds et al., 2009).
The second approach deals with intervening with status offenders. Such teenagers and children cannot be called criminals, because the actions they take are not legal only for minors. Among the most wide spread offenses are alcohol abuse, running away, curfew violations, and truancy. If such teenagers receive help in time, it might seriously reduce their chances to become stable abusers in future. It is considered that early intervention and assessment give more positive results than adjudication and disciplinary focus. Working with such teenagers in a community center can help them integrate into the company of their peers, and communicate with their family under the supervision of the professional psychologist (Farrington & Welsh, 2007).
It is difficult to underestimate the results the program of early prevention gives. Even preparing a child to enter school reduces the possibility of delinquent conduct in the future, because children feel that their parents care for their well-being, they talk to them, and overall preparedness for school makes them feel more self-confident. Those children who participate in the school life from the early years also tend to show antisocial behavior less than their unsocialized peers because they are more involved into the community, and they have more positive experience in studying at school. As the result, they rarely drop out of school. In addition, the approach of early intervention increases the rates of IQ, which results in the lower level of aggression and better academic performance even in the elementary school (Nation et al., 2009).
Involvement into the early education of the child makes the parents more connected to them and creates the feeling that children will always find help at home even on the subconscious level. When a difficult situation happens in the life of the child, he/she does not try to find help on the streets or in a local gang, but comes home and discusses it with his/her parents. The importance of working together with the family from the early years of child's development is evident to the majority of parents and it makes the program easier to apply in practice (Koffman et al., 2009).
The positive experience of the early childhood is the guarantee of further success in social relations. It is necessary to remember that every child requires individual approach and there is an approach to everyone, even though it might seem difficult from the start. The program of the early intervention shows that those children who belong to the group of risk benefit the most from the support the program provides them with.
The program of early intervention is successful from the financial aspect. The governmental investments into the preventing methods like family therapy, control, and preschool assistance cost less than the money spent on prisons and correction centers every year. The biggest part of the budget is spent on supporting the prisons, and investing into the preventing program might reduce the number of criminals (Zagar, Busch, & Hughes, 2009).
Intervening with status offenders is a popular measure of preventing further delinquency among the juveniles. It is a mild measure to change the worldview of a teenager, who has made a minor mistake, but whose mistakes might become more serious in the future. The behavior of teenagers is influenced by a big number of reasons, and the risk factors that were mentioned earlier are among the most wide-spread issues that determine juvenile delinquency (Farrington & Welsh, 2007).
The importance of early intervention program is strategic because it aims at eliminating the influence of the negative risk factors. Both the early intervention program and intervening with status offenders have the common main characteristic – they try to change a child or a teenager with delinquency problems in a mild way without making him/her feel that he/she is a criminal and give everyone the right to change without ruining their lives (Zagar, Busch, & Hughes, 2009).
The early intervention into a child’s development is one of the most perspective domains in juvenile justice. It takes into consideration all possible risk factors that exist and can influence the character development in the oddest combinations. There are assumptions that the professional implementation of the early intervention program helps to save almost 3,5 thousand dollars on each student who managed to become a decent citizen without going through the juvenile delinquency period (Nation et al., 2009). To make mistakes is normal in the teenage years. The Proverbs 22:15 say: “Foolishness bound in the heart of a child; [but] the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” It is not late to start helping a teenager to overcome the problems, he/she is not a serious criminal yet, and everything can be changed.
It is necessary to understand that the written records about the offenses related to the alcohol abuse, for example, might affect the future lives of teenagers. Their chances to enter institutes or find prestigious jobs in the future might significantly reduce because of the minor mistakes of their youth. However, for their parents and police officers, it is necessary to make teenagers understand the importance of abiding the laws and taking responsibility for their actions. Such measures need not make teenagers hate everyone. As it is said in the Ephesians 6:4: “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Putting a status offender into prison or calling him/her a criminal will lead to nothing but hatred and aggression that will only grow with the time.
That is why the police officers often attempt to handle the status offenses in a comparatively mild manner by means of sending them to the psychological center, where they are not treated as criminals. Verbal warnings, educational lectures of parents, community meetings with the family and other teenagers with similar problems might help those young people understand that there is a way to live a descent life and this way of living is not old fashioned or not prestigious. Overcoming the problems connected with the relationships in the family, which cause the delinquent behavior of a teenager, can also be easier when all members of the family consult the professional psychologist (Nation et al., 2009). It is crucial to look at the situation from the perspective of a teenager or a child in order to understand him/her. It is written in the 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
Preventing children and teenagers from engaging into anti-social and delinquent behavior is the priority in the juvenile justice. The juvenile justice system in general and the programs that are used to prevent juvenile delinquency in particular have a great impact on the life of the community and the governmental budget. First, early intervention approach gives a possibility for thousands of children to grow up in better family environment, to receive better education, and to avoid problems with integrating into the community during their teenage ages. When the intervention starts in the later period of time, for example, when a child or a teenager has already shown certain kinds of delinquent behavior, the work with psychologists in the community groups together with the parents gives them a chance for changing their future lives and does not accuse them of being criminals, thus ruining their perspectives.