Studies indicate that "... A higher than average incidence of delinquency occurs among youngsters of the poorest social standing and with the lowest performance at school..." (Jarvelin et al., 1994, p. 230)
Similarly, studies also note that neighborhood influences on development was determinant on factors such as "...collective socialization, peer-group influence, and institutional capacity." (Sampson, Morenoff & Gannon-Rowley, 2002. p 443) Generally studies like the above present a negative picture of environmental and neighborhood influences.
The above analysis is also related to cultural issues such as the formation of gangs which is a factor that is related to delinquency in poverty-stricken areas. "The gang, a source of much delinquency, has been a common path for adolescents, particularly in the inner cities. "("Juvenile Delinquency," 2004) This also refers to the cultural and social norms in certain areas, where values and standards may accommodate behavior that is generally seen as delinquent. "Delinquent behaviour often occurs in social settings in which the norms for acceptable behaviour have broken down. Under such circumstances many of the common rules that deter people from committing socially unacceptable acts may lose their relevance for some members of society." (Juvenile Delinquency)
This aspect can also be related to urbanization and to instances where traditional values and worldviews are interrupted and changed. "Geographical analysis suggests that countries with more urbanized populations have higher registered crime rates than do those with strong rural lifestyles and communities." (Juvenile Delinquency)
Peer influences are another cause of delinquent behavior. Many experts advocate research and understanding of peer group behavior patterns as well as socialization issues in understanding the causes of delinquency. This is an important aspect as it also relate to another causative factor in delinquent behavior; namely dysfunctional and broken families. This is a central contemporary issue as there has been an increase in the number of broken homes in recent year and this has been shown to have a concomitant impact on levels of juvenile delinquency and criminal behavior. In this respect peer groups may be a form of compensation for the negative effects of broken and dysfunctional homes. "Quite often delinquent groups can counterbalance or compensate for the imperfections of family and school. A number of studies have shown that juvenile gang members consider their group a family. For adolescents constantly facing violence, belonging to a gang can provide protection within the neighbourhood." (Juvenile Delinquency)
Psychological issues also play a role in understanding and dealing with delinquency. It should be remembered that the psychological, social, cultural and environmental factors are not separate and are usually intertwined to form a complex reality, which is the real cause of delinquency. For instance, while most delinquent behavior can be related to poor economic conditions, it must also be borne in mind that this aspect is intertwined with sociological and psychological aspects that together create the conditions for delinquent behavior to exist. " An inability to cope with the demands of society and the external stress affecting a child with a certain kind of incapacity may have increased the propensity for normbreaking behavior in such cases." (Jarvelin et al.)
As has already been briefly mentioned, an aspect that is crucial in the understanding of delinquency is the complex issue of the structure and function of the family. The also refers to the complex interrelationship between parents, child behavior and neighborhood. Studies show that children who are not supervised tend to have more behavioral problems and are more prone to delinquent behavior.
A factor of that should be considered is that very often there are variables that do not conform to generally accepted patterns when it comes to the causes of this problems. While it commonly assumed that delinquent behavior is associated with poor economic conditions in studies show that "rich kids" are increasingly showing criminal tendencies. (Carmichael, A.)
3. Solutions and preventative measures.
One of the most common ways of dealing with the problem of juvenile delinquency in society has been the use of legal procedures and the court system. However the treatment of juveniles in the court and judicial system has come in for a certain amount of criticism in recent years. This is mainly due to the fact that there have been an increasing number of juvenile criminals who have been treated in adult courts.
Fear of juvenile crime in the United States has reversed the long-accepted practice of treating young offenders in special juvenile courts. Thousands of children annually are now being transferred "automatically," without judicial review, from juvenile court jurisdiction to adult criminal court and into adult corrections. These transfers place children into a court setting in which they are at a disadvantage at every stage of the process. Children who are incarcerated in adult facilities are at great risk. Those who are convicted but not imprisoned may still suffer long lasting negative consequences.
Prosecuting Juveniles in Adult Court...)
As the above quotation indicates, this process has increased concern that the legal system is in many instances increasing the long-term negative consequences of juvenile crime and delinquency. This is exacerbated by the decreasing age of criminal responsibility in the United States and Canada. (Roberts, Stalans, Indermaur & Hough, 2003, p. 119) This in turn has led to many questions about the viability and the effects of the court and judicial system in dealing with juveniles. "To what extent does a trial in criminal court and/or incarceration in adult prisons promote or retard community protection, juvenile offenders' accountability and the development of competencies in juvenile offenders? " (Redding, 1999) This question is also related to the negative impact of the court system on the psyche of the young offender.
As a consequence there are numerous alternative methods that have been suggested with regard to the prevention and treatment of juvenile offenders. These range from improvements in the court system and a new way of dealing with juveniles through specialized courts (Anderson, 1998, p.72), to interventions that would possibly reduce the high incidence of this problem among the youth. One suggestion is a court"... whose goal would be to help organize the increasingly complex task of child rearing by intervening in situations where breakdowns in child-rearing capacities have occurred." (Anderson, 1998, p 72)
One methodology that has been explored and which has produced positive results in terms of social work strategies is the involvement of all parties and community integration in addressing this problem. This means that the schools, community structures and the police and legal institutions become involved in an organized strategy to deal the various causes of delinquency. For example, "Community groups and businesses can work with schools to create "safe zones," for students on their way to and from school. Stores and offices can also identify themselves as "safe spaces," where young people can find protection if they are being threatened." (The Challenge of School Violence)
There are also wide ranges of interventions that can be applied and these are especially effective when implemented at an early age, in order to prevent the development of more complex causative factors later on. A study by Sprague and Walker (2000) states that the signs of possible violent behavior are often evident at an early age. "These signs are reflected in the behavioral characteristics of many at-risk children at the point of school entry and become elaborated during the elementary school years. These warning signs vary substantially in terms of how well they predict or are associated with juvenile violence; all should be of serious concern..." (Sprague and Walker, 2000, p. 367)
In essence the most effective method of preventing and dealing with this problem is one that is integrative and holistic. This involves strategies dealing with exercises relating to the consequences and alternatives to violence as well as role-playing activities. (www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001502686"Cirillo et al., 1998, p. 319) Family and school intervention strategies have also had a high success rate. The aim is to include parents and teachers in the overall strategy. Other integrative strategies that have a positive effect are those that utilize peer role models as well as psychodrama. These have been shown to have had some success in reducing violent interactions among adolescents. (Hammond, W.R. 1990).
4. The Role of Social Work in Juvenile Delinquency
The previous sections of this paper have already explored some avenues that are appropriate for the intervention of social workers; particularly with regard to coordinating a more holistic approach to the problem. There is no doubt that the social workers can play a vital role in the prevention of juvenile delinquency. There is also little doubt that there are many obstacles that have to be overcome in dealing in this problem area.
The increased involvement of social work follows the trend towards social rather than legislative solutions to the problem of delinquency. There is a growing trend which sees social solutions as being preferable to law enforcement and legal ways of…