Risk Factors for Juvenile Delinquency

The definition of the words, “At-Risk Youth,” is a broad term covering many aspects of life. The clear-cut definition of “at-risk” means a negative situation that puts kids in danger of having a later incident resulting in an adverse impact on his/her life.

Researchers have broken risk factors down into five main categories:

1. Individual Factors, which include both mental and physical health.

2. Family Factors, which include, minimal adult supervision because of drug use by parents or criminal history. Children, with a lack of bonding with parent(s), are at risk. The parents, involved with drugs or illegal activities, cannot give their children a sense of security. Sexual and/or physical abuse, by family members, has a detrimental effect.

3. Peer Factors, which include rejection, bullying, and gang involvement.

4. School Factors, which includes academic failure, low school commitment, and lack of involvement with an adult role model.

5. Environment (Community) Factors, which include drug availability, lack of organization, lawlessness and ignoring societal norms.

The above are factors are causal of offending behavior. Those are factors, which we can not see. When we look at the individual characteristics of at-risk youth, we begin to understand how the factors affect the child.

Law Enforcement, all over the United States has set up a program, SHIELD, which is a referral program of At-Risk Youth. The officers have first-hand knowledge of children who are at risk. The officers, responding to 911 calls, enter homes where children are exposed to domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and other criminal behavior.

The dysfunctional experiences, and exposure to violence that children witness, in the home, predisposes them to developing delinquent behavior. The officers identify the at-risk factors and provide youth with multdisciplinary teams from the schools, community, and special social agencies, to support the children by referral. The officers, trained in risks factors, use the measures to assess the juveniles.

Characteristics of the risk factors in children

a. Impulsive

b. Angry

c. Sad

d. Disrespect of others,

e. Does not want help or anyone to intervene

f. Lack of social skills

e. Seeks peer acceptance and approval.

f. Bored easily

g. Participates in criminal activity – stealing, drug use, drug sales.

h. Children are not able to deal with perceived feelings of disappointment from peers and family.

i. Mental illness

What concerns parents, teachers, and researchers are that juvenile delinquency behaviors are not confined to urban, overcrowded schools. Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith, (an adjunct professor at Harvard University and medical doctor in a Boston inner-city clinic), observed that antisocial behavior comes in waves and is washing over to middle class schools and to schools in small towns and rural areas. The violence does not only attach itself to the stereotypical, antisocial adolescent, but girls and young children are swept up in the same epidemic wave of antisocial behavior.

Some children, exposed to violence in the neighborhood, use “Resiliency” and “Protective” factors. These factors help children make appropriate behavioral choices. The Center on Crime, Communities and Culture, studied the effect of protective factors in children. They discovered that juveniles, taught reading skills, were more likely to turn their lives around than juveniles sent to boot camp. Other protectective factors are parental bonding with their children; using neighborhood resources; and involvement in school.

The most compelling educational studies of violence in the schools were conducted by Drs. Skiba and Peterson (Indiana State University, Department of Education). They studied the effect of zero tolerance. They found that zero tolerance, on occasion, leads to controversy.

All of us have experienced the effect of zero tolerance. Airlines banning nailfiles, scissors and any other potentially harmful objects that can be used as a weapon. Airline personnel confiscate these objects before the passenger enters the aircraft. In schools, the consequences are much greater.

Many teachers, parents, and administrators embrace zero tolerance because of the greater potential of violence. In 1994, when zero tolerance became a mandate for school districts, the expulsion rate increased. School officials suspended and expelled students for “minor potential weapons”: nailfiles, toy cap gun, a plastic knife in a lunch box to cut a chicken, plastic axe as part of a Halloween costume, an inhaler for asthma (the rule for inhalers at most schools is that the children keep inhalers in the nurse’s office. School personnel confiscated “dangerous” items; and expelled students.

These “potential” weapons carried the same consequences as carrying a real weapon. Drs. Skiba and Peterson discovered that zero tolerance, using expulsion as a consequence for minor reasons, caused a higher rate of school dropouts.

The most effective programs, according to most researchers, have to begin in elementary schools. Teachers, parents, school administrators and school counselors must have basic training. Students, eginning in early grades learn basic conflict resolution strategies. As they grow older, juveniles learn more “protective” factors.

The tools turn at-risk juveniles into successful adults. The chains, that cause juvenile delinquency, break.