Discussion: Factors Influencing Delinquency

Discussion: Factors Influencing Delinquency

Discussion: Factors Influencing Delinquency


Families, Youth and Delinquency: the State of Knowledge, and Family-based Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Programs

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ISBN: 978-1-100-11686-0


The family, as a learning, discovery and socialization environment, is a key protective factor in the development of children and adolescents. When dysfunctional, it is also regarded as a risk factor for juvenile delinquency.

To better address the relationship between the family, risk factors, protective factors, juvenile delinquency and intervention with vulnerable families, this paper is divided into two main parts.

The first part surveys knowledge about risk and protective factors associated with families. A detailed analysis of risk factors has identified three categories of risk factors in the family environment:

1. risk factors related to family dynamics and functioning (considered proximal risk factors),

2. risk factors related to family characteristics, and

3. risk factors related to the neighbourhood or area where families live.

With regard to protective factors, current knowledge is relatively limited, but documentary research has identified the main protective factors which are related to the family environment. The first part also contains a statistical portrait of Canadian families affected by specific risk factors, and concludes with a brief survey of the situation in Aboriginal communities.

The second part of the paper describes programs that aim to prevent and reduce juvenile delinquency in the family environment. Analysis has shown that three intervention methods are particularly effective with families:

1. parental training,

2. family therapy, and

3. the integrated approach.

Based on research reports, longitudinal studies and evaluation summaries, this research is intended as an initial step in extending scientific knowledge of what are called “vulnerable families” or “at-risk families,” and in making better use of knowledge in order to work more effectively with them.

Chapter 1

Survey of Knowledge of Risk Factors and Protective Factors Associated With Families

It is generally accepted that the risk of developing a life trajectory oriented towards delinquency is influenced by the number of risk factors to which a youth is exposed.Footnote1 By the same token, it may be suggested that as a youth is surrounded by protective factors, the risks of an orientation towards delinquency are diminished.

Risk Factors

Very briefly, risk factors may be described as characteristics or variables that, when present, make certain individuals more likely than others to adopt behaviours that can cause them harm.Footnote2

The risk factors related to delinquency are multidimensional in the sense that they are manifested in more than one aspect of the day-to-day lives of individuals. The typology generally accepted by researchers accordingly classifies risk factors on the following basis: individual characteristics, family, school, peers and the community.Footnote3

It is also accepted that the effects of risk factors vary with age.Footnote4 For example, in childhood the risk factors that have more of an impact are those that exist within the family; as children grow and become more integrated into their environment, risk factors related to peers, school, neighbourhood and community play a more important part.Footnote5 Risk factors related to individual characteristics, such as hyperactivity, anxiety and aggressiveness must be taken into consideration at all ages.

Moreover, it must be remembered that delinquent behaviour is acquired over time in conditions that overlap and in situations presenting multiple problems. The interaction and accumulation of risk factors increase the likelihood of acting out,Footnote6 not only because the effect of risk factors is cumulative, but also because they interact: the effects of one multiply the effects of another, and so on. For example, parental alcohol abuse may generate family conflict, which in turn may increase the risk of problems related to substance abuse.

According to a study by the Social Exclusion Task Force (London), at age 14, the more family risk factors a youth displays, the more likely he or she is to be expelled from school, to be taken in by youth protection services, or to come into contact with the police; the relationship is particularly pronounced in the case of the expulsion from school of youth who present five or more family risk factors.Footnote7

With regard to risk factors associated with the family environment, a detailed analysis enables us to distinguish between three subcategories:

· risk factors associated with family dynamic and functioning,

· risk factors associated with family characteristics; and

Table 1—Juvenile Delinquency Risk Factors Associated With the

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