Juvenile Delinquency Impact of Poverty, Health Problems, Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Juvenile Delinquency

Impact of Poverty, Health Problems, Family Problems on Increase in Juvenile Delinquency?

Juvenile delinquency and its causes have been studied extensively. Many factors that put adolescents at risk of becoming delinquent have been identified. The majority of youth who enter the child welfare system, and many of the youth who are caught up in the juvenile justice system have experienced abuse and neglect, dysfunctional home environments, destructive and inconsistent parenting practices, poverty, emotional and behavioral disorders, poor mental and physical health care, poor family-school relationships, exposure to deviant peers as well as community and societal problems that have contributed to their entry into the child welfare and juvenile justice systems (Miller, Davies & Greenwald, 5-6).


The increasing depth of poverty for American children is shown not only in this change but also in dramatic changes in the nature of poverty. Children in poverty are increasingly concentrated in impoverished and underclass neighborhoods (Greenwood, 91-95). Concern about the number of children living in poverty arises from our knowledge of the problems children face because of poverty. Since the 1960s, developmental research has examined the effects of poverty on IQ, social adjustment, self-esteem, depression, and other types of maladaptive behaviors as mediated by such factors as parenting, home environment, family structure, immediate resources and more recently, school, child care, and neighborhood (Huston et al., 275). In each case, poverty has been shown to have detrimental effects. Whether we find evidence that poverty is related to delinquency, however, depends on the type of research employed. Ethnographic studies link poverty to delinquency and crime, along with such factors as persistent unemployment, marital disruption, female-headed households, and teenage pregnancy.

Ethnographic research tends to focus on a relatively small group within a relatively limited context, however, and so is unable to convincingly rule out rival hypotheses for a poverty -- delinquency relationship. Empirical research at the aggregate-level has also amassed evidence that chronic and persistent poverty leads to crime (Fauth, Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 761). The results of aggregate-level studies, however, are not often taken by many as convincing evidence of a causal relationship or as useful in explaining the nature of the relationship: when a relationship is found using aggregated data, the etiology, characteristics, and behavior associated with that relationship cannot be specifically detailed or easily understood. The most convincing evidence that poverty causes delinquency would, therefore, necessarily be based on individual-level quantitative analyses. Yet, such investigations provide the least support for a relationship between poverty and crime. It has been found that children from disadvantaged families are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviors. At the same time, children from disadvantaged families are more likely to be neglected and abused.

In general, such research efforts have led to the conclusion that poverty accounts for little of the variation in delinquent involvement (Fauth, Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 763). Yet, individual level quantitative analyses have been the least effective of these three approaches at identifying the group which criminological theory suggests is the most important -- individuals who grew up in conditions of persistent poverty (Farnworth et al., 32-35). Among the types of research examining the association between poverty and delinquency, ethnographic research provides the most consistent evidence linking poverty to delinquency. Ethnographies are also rich sources of information on the processes through which poverty is associated with delinquency.

In particular, they give us another source for understanding those factors that might well mediate the effect of poverty on delinquency. Many of the processes support the theoretical positions of strain and sub-cultural theories. For example, Sa'nchez Jankowski (1995) has described the motives for delinquent involvement of those people living in poverty.

First, for many people living in poverty, crime is seen as the only opportunity for achieving a higher level of socioeconomic status.

Second, some people living in poverty turn to crime as a means of surviving, and at a minimum, maintaining their current economic status.

Third, many people living in poverty, especially adolescents, resort to delinquency to enhance their financial ability to have fun.

Finally, for those living in poverty, respect and honor become cherished "possessions" in the absence of material possessions.

As a result, the individual is often prepared to take whatever means are necessary to protect his or her respect and honor, an argument consistent with the theoretical discussions of Fauth, Roth & Brooks-Gunn (2007). More generally, a number of ethnographic studies have contributed to our understanding of how living in poverty creates persistent problems that may well mediate the effect of poverty and have been related to delinquent activity (Thornberry et al., 213). For example, a fairly common theme in these studies is the disruption of the family and the absence of the father -- factors which are central to Miller's sub-cultural theory. Haynie (2001) attributes the prevalence of female-headed households to structural constraints in legitimate opportunities for men and the existence of a "ghetto-specific" male role which values such items as sexual exploits, toughness, ability to command respect and concern for personal appearance.

Kierkus & Hewitt (2009). Describe the peer support that can encourage the creation of situations in which the mother is head of the household and the father is absent. Whether viewed as a separate culture, independent from the dominant culture, or as an adaptation of dominant culture values and behaviors to structural conditions, these studies view the ghetto and the lower class as distinct from the middle class in ways that contribute to social problems such as crime and delinquency.

Poverty is clearly not the only cause of delinquency. We should not even expect the impact of poverty to be deterministic. If anything, poverty is important to the extent that it represents a context in which behavior occurs. Growing up poor means there is less likely to be appropriate levels of cognitive stimulation in the home. Children raised in poverty are less likely to perform well academically, are more likely to report lower levels of self-confidence, and are less likely to be supervised effectively by parents (Fauth, Roth & Brooks-Gunn, 760). They are also more likely to grow up in families that lack the resources or skills needed by children. These intervening mechanisms contribute to a higher likelihood of delinquent participation.

There is also evidence from other research that the direct impact of poverty is necessarily low given the many factors which mediate the effect of poverty on delinquency (Jarjoura and Triplett, 763). Combining these results with those from aggregate- level and ethnographic analyses suggests that the poverty -- delinquency relationship is substantively important, particularly in the way poverty shapes experiences which lead to delinquency.

Physical and Mental Health Problems

Another major cause of juvenile delinquency is the physical and mental health of the juvenile deliquescent. This cause is often ignored by the juvenile justice system. Especially because of poverty, people cannot afford to deal with the health issues that their children have. Because of expensive health care, a non-affording young person often finds stealing as the only solution for his/problem. But this cause is only associated with poverty. What about young people who are not so poor but still commit some kind of delinquency. There are various reasons for that (Demuth & Brown, 58).

One of the reasons is the physical handicap of the young individual in one or more ways, for example, body dysfunctioning of some kind, being deaf, dumb, blind etc. These defects do not effect directly but indirectly. he/she might have adjusted to the deficiency he/she has in his body but it is the response of the environment (people in the surrounding) that disturbs the person. The parents or other people might not be treating the child or adolescent normally (Miri & Ashtiani, 121). This is what creates the main problem because it results in aggressive and anti-social behavior. The child often retaliates in the form of irritable behavior, aggressiveness, tantrums etc. often resulting in a delinquency. It is also the case that in some families the parents do not even know if their child has a problem or a deficiency, physical or mental.

Another reason why some young people commit crimes is that they are mentally unstable, in other words, they have some kind of psychological problem which often they are unaware of, and neither are their parents (Lynam et.al, 563). The problem has either been inherited from the parents, has been developed during birth or in the early years of a person's childhood.

Family Problems

Undeniably, the family is the primary agent of controlling a society. An adolescent's primary interaction with the outside world starts with his/her family, especially parents. It is the parents who teach everything to their children, not the teachers or the books. So families play an important part in increasing or decreasing juvenile delinquency. Most of the researches conducted regarding juvenile delinquency have revealed that family structure, functioning, and problems are the main cause of crimes in the youth. A person's personality is developed in the early years of his/her childhood. If the family has not brought him/her…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Apel, R., & Kaukinen, C. On the relationship between family structure and antisocial behavior: Parental cohabitation and blended households. Criminology, (2008). 46, 35-70.

Demuth, S., & Brown, S. Family structure, family processes, and adolescent delinquency: The significance of parental absence vs. parental gender. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, (2004). 41, 58-81.

Farnworth, M., Thornberry, T., Krohn, M., and Lizotte, A. Measurement in the study of class and delinquency: Integrating theory and research. J. Res. Crime Delinq. (1994). 31: 32 -- 61.

Fauth, R.C., Roth, J.L., & Brooks-Gunn, J. Does the neighborhood context alter the link between youth's after-school time activities and developmental outcomes? A multilevel analysis. Developmental Psychology, (2007). 43, 760-777.

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