The Benefits of Early Childhood Intervention on Juvenile Delinquency
An accurate way to determine a child’s future behaviors is by examining their past and current behaviors (Loeber, Farrington, & Petechuk, 2003). The peak age for childhood delinquency is nine years of age, thus children ages thirteen and younger are at a higher risk of becoming a chronic juvenile delinquent through acts of violence and serious crimes (Loeber et al., 2003). The four predicting variables of juvenile delinquency per research are: the attributes of family and the child, the child’s antisocial behavior, and the combined child and family social characteristics (Lipsey & Derzon, 1998 as cited in Mann & Reynolds, 2006). Reports from the United States law enforcement agencies in 2009 claimed 1.9 million arrests for children under the age of eighteen (Ryan, Williams & Courtney, 2013). Breaking this total number of crimes apart, in property crimes juveniles accounted for twenty four percent of the total, and for fifteen percent of the violent crime totals (OJJDP 2011a, b, as cited in Ryan et al., 2013). When coupled with the recent media grabbing attention of the Slender Man stabbing of a twelve year old girl by her two twelve year old friends (Slender Man Stabbing – NBC News, 2015) questions arise as to why this horrific event and other juvenile crimes are happening.
Preventing early childhood delinquency in a child’s ever changing and growing environment will lessen the likelihood of the child entering into a future path of juvenile delinquency. Providing an all encompassing early childhood intervention program, through early childhood development, and based on parental factors, environmental factors, and the four major developmental theories will thus lessen the chance of future delinquency.
When early childhood development is discussed among scholars the controversy splits into three categories (Allen & Marotz, 2003). Some scholars believe in the theory that a child’s developmental life path is determined by nature, being that of biological and genetic factors leading to or prevent delinquency (Allen & Marotz, 2003). The second group of scholars believes the nurture theory, that a child’s environment and home life prevent or cause delinquency (Allen & Marotz, 2003). Today most scholars see both sides of nature and nurture as equal within a child’s earliest stages of development. However, linking these factors as means for a child’s delinquency career path has been argued through studies between early childhood and future crime as under proven evidence (Zigler, Taussig, & Black, 1992).
This paper will showcase that both nature and nurture within a child’s early stages of development set forth a child’s future path through different avenues of development. Focus will start with pregnant women, the first five years of developmental life, and family functions and attributes. Early childhood theories will be discussed and early childhood stages will be explored. This paper will also spotlight previous longitudinal studies of preschool programs; discuss Head Start, and the benefits of a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). Additionally, this paper will review literary journals reporting on childhood play and family functions, childhood behaviors, as well as the most recent and shocking story of the Slender Man stabbing, and what could be showcased to policy makers so they to take notice towards prevention. This paper will not include the factors of race/ethnicity or gender as they are not needed to provide the status of developmental theories. More so this paper will not discuss gang relations or the effects of violence in movies, television, or video games on young children. Additionally, although gangs fall into several facets of delinquency they are too broad and outside the scope of this paper.
The Beginning of Nature and Nurture
In the earliest stages of pregnancy fetal development is essential in carrying a healthy newborn far beyond delivery (Allen & Marotz, 2003). Within the stages of fetal development there are the germinal stage, the embryonic stage and the fetal stage. Each stage plays a key role in the overall development of the newborn. During the embryonic stage the placenta starts to form providing nutrients, hormones, and provides a filter of sorts to prevent harmful substances from reaching the fetus (Allen & Marotz, 2003). However, drugs can still make their way through the filtering system causing long term damaging effects on the fetal organs (Allen & Marotz, 2003). These negative effects are referred to as teratogens. Teratogens can be from alcohol, smoking, drug use, caffeine, pesticides, over the counter medications, and household chemicals that the mother ingests or has in her environment which can harm the fetus (Allen & Marotz, 2003). Healthy fetal development can help prevent a future of developmental delays, birth defects, as well as social and emotional behavioral factors that could increase their risk for juvenile delinquency (Allen & Marotz, 2003). It is imperative that pregnant women get the appropriate doctor backed prenatal care, as well as lives in a positive environment to lessen stress. Single mothers without supports often lack the needed healthy environmental structure and medical care required to support a healthy baby and can ultimately put the child at risk for developmental issues upon birth (Allen & Marotz, 2003). It should be noted that a mother who is not exposed to teratogens can still have a complicated birth and therefore bare children with possible developmental challenges and or disabilities. However, a mother can reduce her risk to her baby through a healthy lifestyle and environment (Allen & Marotz, 2003). This supports the claim that programs started before the birth of a child within low-income families and those considered at-risk could help lessen the prenatal factors connected with delinquency (Yoshikawa, 1995).
Theories of Development
The four major developmental theories come from early childhood theorists and are the core for understanding the earliest stages of a child’s development. The maturational theory (Gesell & Ilg, 1949 as cited in Teaching Young Children by Michael L. Henniger, 1999) was brought about by Arnold Gesell and focuses on the mental and physical growth of a child. Gesell developed this theory through on campus observations of children at The Yale Clinic of Child Development (Henniger, 1999). Gesell’s maturational theory is thus broken into ten subcategories. These include emotional expression, personal hygiene, school life, play and pastime, motor use (use of body), fears and dreams, ethical senses, interpersonal relations, self and sex, and philosophic outlook (Gesell & Ilg, 1949, as cited in Henniger, 1999).
The second major theory, the psychoanalytic theory was originated by Sigmund Freud. Freud’s theory claims that childhood behaviors are unconscious and developed throughout the life stages (Allen & Marotz, 2003). There are two other sets of the development of the mind known as the preconscious mind in which recall is used, and the conscious mind in which the mind is aware of the present in the form of what is currently happening at that time (Allen & Marotz, 2003).
The third major theory is the cognitive-developmental theory noted by Jean Piaget (Allen & Marotz, 2003). Piaget’s cognitive-developmental theory focuses on four sub theories within the theory that a child’s knowledge is gained through the discoveries within their environment. Piaget’s cognitive-developmental theories are sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operations (Allen & Marotz, 2003). Sensorimotor focuses from birth to age two of the child. Preoperational focuses on ages two through seven years. Concrete operational takes place during the ages of seven to eleven. The formal operations development stage starts at age eleven and continues into the teenage years (Allen & Marotz, 2003).
The fourth major developmental stage is the learning theory from B.F. Skinner (Allen & Marotz, 2003). Skinner’s theory focused on the nurture component of early childhood development under the belief that behaviors are learned by the child’s positive or negative exchanges within their environment (Allen & Marotz, 2003).
Erik Erikson, a developmental physiologist is known for his eight stage developmental psychosocial theory which spans from birth to death (Sokol, 2009). Erikson was often criticized for his lack of explanations within his theories thus causing readers to do more discovery of each on their own. The eight stages of developmental psychosocial involve both inner and outer conflicts of a child (Sokol, 2009). This takes place during a person’s developmental life and can cause both an unsuccessful and successful outcome. This is important with regards to juvenile delinquency because of their link to a child’s adolescent years and how they interact “with neighborhoods, communities, and school” (Sokol, 2009, p. 142). A child’s developmental understanding of who they are and what they are allows them to identify their role in the world now and in the future.
The psychosocial development brought about by Erickson has three key points with regards to the youngest of a child’s developmental stages and provides the ability to regulate their social environment (Sokol, 2009). This is noted as being accomplished through emotional development, play taking place between the ages of two and six based on Mildred Parten’s (1932) five kinds of play, and moral development between ages four and five (Baum, 2007). Emotional development with regards to psychosocial looks at the emotional regulation of a child between the ages of four and five. How a child expresses their emotions is what Erickson referred to as the initiative verses guilt stage learned through the child’s newly found independence (Mooney, 2000). At about age three a child’s self-concept of themselves is based on self-esteem, appearance, personality, and their gender and height/weight also play a role. The link between a child’s emotional development and future juvenile delinquency lays in the connection of emotional regulation (Mooney, 2000). Children who are delinquent are thus lacking in emotional regulation due to psychopathology, a deemed disorder or illness in the mind (Mooney, 2000) Emotional regulation controls a child’s impulses within situations and prevents or allows for verbal or physical outburst towards others (Mooney, 2000). Through emotional regulation children can either commit a crime or not commit a crime based on their levels of learned controls. A child’s emotional development plays a role in how they control their emotions and increase their social awareness (Mooney, 2000).
In 1985 Robert Agnew’s revised strain theory was published in Social Forces journal. Agnew (1985) claimed that a revised strain theory brought forth a better understanding of why delinquency takes place. Delinquency’s pathway was seen as a combination of social control, subculture; deviance, and environmental aversion (Agnew, 1985). Secondly, a model of seriousness of delinquency factors was noted as attachment to mother, poor school outcomes both educationally and through connections with teachers, and parental punishment ways with defiant beliefs and dating. In doing so these behaviors coupled with anger can then lead to delinquent behaviors (Agnew, 1985). Agnew (1985) concluded that the source of delinquency is brought about by pain-avoidance behaviors such as goal-seeking efforts done through avoidance of achieving the goals for fear of failure. Secondly, children will have behaviors of abandoning their home environments by running away if they feel that it is preventing them from reaching their goals to survive through adverse stimuli (Agnew, 1985). Together these negative incidents cause negative outcomes in the form of depression, anger or anxiety in children (Fagan, 2013).
Much like Agnew’s (1985) model of the course of delinquent behaviors, the conceptual model of the prediction of juvenile delinquency has major connections (Mann & Reynolds, 2006). This model, based on an ecologically developed set of predictors showing that peer, school, and family support, social adjustments, and cognitive advantages all participate in the frequency and severity of possible future delinquency (Mann & Reynolds, 2006).
Another key connection of delinquency is described through social bond/social control theory developed by Travis Hirschi in the 1969 (Wiatrowski, Griswold & Roberts, 1981). Hirschi’s social control theory was based on a childs’ early ability to either control or not control their desire to commit crimes. Hirshci based the control theory on four interconnecting forms: attachment with parents and school, commitment of social relationships, involvement in pro-social activities, and finally a belief type of value system (Wiatrowski et al., 1981). The indirect links that these four forms create, according to Hirshci, can directly prevent delinquent behaviors in children. They can even be as an afterthought during an action because they are instilled during childhood’s learned psychological controls (Wiatrowski et al., 1981).
Another theory that came to be in 1985 is Theory of Mind referred to as ToM by Simon Baron-Cohen, whom also piloted the initial study of autism in children (Suway, Degnan, Sussman & Fox, 2011). ToM comes into the play of relationships with antisocial behaviors of children through cognitive and social development (Suway et al., 2011). Essentially ToM is a child’s “ability to read or to understand the beliefs, desires, or intentions of others, as well as to understand that these may be different from one’s own beliefs, desires, or intentions,” (Klin, 2000, as cited in Suway et al., 2011, p. 331). The contributing factors of social and cognitive development can be based on a child’s peer relationships and temperaments. A child’s capacity to have positive peer relationships means they are able to understand social norms and others’ opinions (Suway et al., 2011). This can be proven at an early age with a child sharing or not sharing a toy with another toddler. A child that is late or behind in ToM can essentially cause poor socialization skill and a lack of interaction abilities during their childhood and thus as they enter the adolescent stages of life (Suway et al., 2011).
Behaviors and Play
The key to understanding why adolescent behaviors appear more impulsive than adult behaviors is due to the limbic system (Brennan, 2008). The limbic system’s function is the emotional base where motivation, adrenaline, and behavioral decisions come from, along with long term memory functioning. The limbic system can also explain a child’s fight or flight response, as it is connected to the cerebral or prefrontal cortex of the brain (Brennan, 2008). The changes taking place in a juvenile brain continue to development as they age, whereas an adult’s cerebral cortex has been completely developed and they have a better understanding of the consequences of their actions (Brennan, 2008).
Childhood play is also a key component within the role of a child’s developmental connection to emotional regulation. Social play takes place as children make and later keep friends based on age, culture and gender. The five types of childhood play at this stage are distinguished by Mildred Parten as associative play, parallel play, cooperative play, onlooker play, and solitary play (New & Cochran, 2007). There are three additional play factors to help with emotional regulation per Parten. These are active social play through accepting peers, sociodramatic play that involves developing a child’s self-concept, and rough-and-tumble play (New & Cochran, 2007). The most important play which benefits the development of the prefrontal cortex is rough-and-tumble play, and is shown to avert antisocial behavior later in life (New & Cochran, 2007).
Extreme Juvenile Delinquency
On May 31, 2014 Payton Leutner, age 12, her best friend Morgan Geyser, also 12 years old, and Anissa Weier, age 12 of Waukesha, Wisconsin went off to the woods as friends (Slender Man Stabbing – NBC News, 2015). Leutner would later crawl from the woods, with nineteen stab wounds on her body, to be discovered by a bicyclist that would call 911. Geyser and Weier, both now thirteen, were found later that day walking along a local highway, and afterwards charged with first degree intentional homicide, both will be tried as adults (Slender Man Stabbing – NBC News, 2015). The rationale behind why two girls stabbed their friend was based on beliefs in a fictional internet character known as Slender Man. Geyser and Weier were plotting to kill Leuter for months to please Slender Man and protect their families from him (Slender Man Stabbing – NBC News, 2015). Detective Tom Casey of the Waukesha Police found searches on Geyser’s bedroom computer such as “how to get away with murdering someone,” (Slender Man Stabbing – NBC News, 2015). Among computer searches, detectives discovered journal and notebooks with saying of “I love killing people,” and “I want to die” along with mutilated Barbie dolls with Slender Man markings on them, and a list of supplies need to commit a stabbing (Slender Man Stabbing – NBC News, 2015). It is possible to assume that this was shocking news to the parents of Geyser and Weier, yet that is quickly dismissed by a prior Instagram posting by Geyser’s father Matt in which he showcased a picture of Slender Man of which Geyser had drawn. The most recent news reported that Geyser has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and other unnoted psychotic disorders (Slender Man Stabbing – NBC News, 2015).
In the case of Geyser and Weier there is little knowledge of parenting and early childhood information to discuss. While antisocial behavior could be to blame, or even possible lack of appropriate parenting, it should be noted that biological factors could have been attributed to Geyser’s diagnosis of schizophrenia (Slender Man Stabbing – NBC News, 2015). Questions remain unanswered to the general public as to the knowledge of what the parents knew about their daughters’ obsession with Slender Man and the numerous drawings, computer searches, and mutilated Barbie dolls.
Based on a research study of juvenile offenders on death row they had five similar areas of traumatic experiences: grew up in poverty, a psychiatric diagnosis, victims of neglect, lived in a dysfunctional family setting, and had addictions to drugs (Lawrence, 1998, as cited in Brennan, 2008). Could any of these connections be similar to Geyser and Weier’s home life?
Family Functioning Factors
Family structure plays a key role in juvenile delinquency in the form of an independent predictor for a child that goes beyond genes. Specifically it is the families functioning and parenting practices that are said to lead to a child’s potential delinquency outcomes (Mann & Reynolds, 2006). Lack of parenting in the form of how much supervision, lack of participation, and neglect plays the biggest roles in future juvenile offending (Mann & Reynolds, 2006). These factors look similar in all families regardless of their income status or residential location. Yet lower income families have a great deal of hurdles due to lack of family support, financial and home stabilities.
Parenting or lack of parenting can play roles in the child’s early psychological development. Developmental and clinical psychologist Diana Baumrind noted four styles of parenting along with three basic parenting patterns (Fass, 2004). The three parenting patterns are authoritarian parents, authoritative parents, and permissive parents. Permissive parents rely on lax discipline but listen to the child and do not push for mature behaviors. Authoritarian parenting means the parents have high demands, but a lack of communication. Authoritative parenting means a parent has a moderate level of rules, communication, and maturity demands (Fass, 2004). The four parenting styles that work with the three parenting patterns are maturity expectations, communicate, expressions of warmth, and strategies for discipline. Parenting patterns and styles matter within a child’s psychosocial development by interconnecting with a child’s temperament (Fass, 2004).
Is there a difference between biological and adoptive family parenting? Research shows that biological and adoptive families of juvenile delinquents found that regardless of the adoptive families, children with biological parents who have a criminal history are at great risk for a future of criminal behavior than that of adoptive children whose biological parents have no links to the criminal justice system (Tremblay & Craig, 1995, as cited in Mednick et al., 1984). Yet preventing juvenile delinquency by reviewing early childhood behaviors is not a new phenomenon; it was first reported by Greek philosophers (McCord, 1993, as cited in Tremblay & Craig, 1995).
Chronic delinquency can be linked to three research backed findings: random type of antisocial act within youths that begin early and continues; youths that have general antisocial behavior that is restricted to adolescence; and the serious juvenile offenders are from a small set of chronic offenders (Yoshikawa, 1995). In addition to antisocial behavior as a risk factor to future delinquency, other factors are noted as parents with a criminal history, poor parenting practices, children growing up in disadvantaged neighborhoods, access to violent video games and television/movies, along with biological and neurological factors (Yoshikawa, 2005). Yoshikawa (1995) determined that the key factor is a poor socioeconomical status. This type of parental status is linked with a lack of child rearing, a lack of supervision, lack of attachment, and the child’s history of antisocial behavior traits. A parent with a lack of child rearing skills thus allows their child to throw extensive tantrums, allows the child to behave in inappropriate ways against others, and allows for dismissal or lack of structure and rules (Yoshikawa, 1995). Research with regards to the benefits of early childhood education and the link to preventing juvenile delinquency reports three key factors: multilayered early childhood programs work the best due to preventers within the program; fostering and supporting parents in turn aids in the cognitive development of the child that increases family cohesiveness; early childhood programs act as a shield in preventing delinquency (Yoshikawa, 1995).
Poor parenting can be considered under multiple terms: abuse, neglect, lack of supervision, parental criminality, and parental mental health issues. While parenting physical abuse is most noted to catch media attention, neglect is the most investigated claim for Child Protective Service agencies in the United States at seventy-eight percent of reports (Ryan, Williams & Courtney, 2013). Specifically neglect can be seen as not providing adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care or age appropriate supervision to keep the child healthy and safe. A lack of parental awareness towards children can result in injuries, and inappropriate and unsafe intake of products and/or food/liquids (Ryan et al., 2013). Neglect is found often with families at or near the poverty level, and lack of parental supervision is the highest predictor for future juvenile delinquency in a child (Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber 1986 as cited in Ryan et al., 2013).
Most notably adolescents that are involved within the juvenile justice system have a history of neglect during earlier childhood, and continue to have open cases with Child Protective Services at the time of arrest. Research shows that juveniles who have a twofold connection with CPS and the juvenile justice system have an increased probability of offending as an adult (Ryan et al., 2013). It should be noted that neglect of younger children and toddlers looks different then neglect of teenagers. For teenagers neglect comes in forms of child-parent relationships or lack of, and unreported sexual or physical abuse (Stein et al., 2009, as cited in Ryan et al., 2013).
Fagan (2013) proposed an important question regarding family-focused interventions and juvenile delinquency. Fagan asked “should criminologist advocate for policies and practices intended to increase the discrimination of effective family-based programs?” (Fagan, 2013, p 617). Another connection of early childhood intervention to criminology is through antisocial and prosocial behaviors through children’s peer interactions and its link to criminology/social learning theory as outlined in 1959 by Albert Bandura (Fagan, 2013).
To aid in answering Fagan’s (2013) question one must take into account the longitudinal reports and what level the program is working on as far as none, all, or for some of the participants. Policy makers will need to see a program working across the board for participants to receive policy backing. The most important portion of gaining results through prevention within juvenile delinquency is with early childhood intervention through family-focused programs that start with pregnant mothers and infants, as well as varying environmental circumstances to fully test the outcomes of early childhood intervention (Fagan, 2013). Although it is outside the scope of this paper, a key factor policy makers may want to consider is the research link between early childhood intervention and biosocial criminology; specifically, the link between a child’s genetic factors and juvenile delinquency outcomes (Fagan, 2013).
Juvenile delinquency in the form of sex crimes are based on prior childhood histories as mentioned by Marshall and Barbaree (1990, as cited in Seto & Lalumiere, 2010). The authors claim that early experiences with neglect from parents and even child abuse can disrupt the development of social skills, proper attachment, and self-regulating skills. The authors also claim that there is a link between a child’s early behaviors and development that can influence their adolescent years and thus their chances of becoming a sexual offender due to poor ability to foster peer relationships (Seto & Lalumiere, 2010). Another factor in the link between childhood psychopathology is in the form of emotional problems and social isolation and their link to the future sex crimes of children (Seto & Lalumiere, 2010). This link is connected with all forms of delinquency, including sex crimes through general antisocial inclinations. The most notable connection between a lack of early childhood development and sex crimes is that of a poor attachment between parent/caregiver and child during the earliest stages of life. Lack of attachment increases the threat for inappropriate relationships with peers and adults as children try and gain comfort and love through unhealthy options (Seto & Lalumiere, 2010).
Antisocial behaviors in children can be represented by behaviors that are aggressive, hostile, and through damaging toys and property, verbal aggression, and anything that could be considered disruptive towards others (Allen & Marotz, 2003). Children with antisocial behaviors will act in these aggressive ways towards parents, friends, family members, siblings, and teachers. Antisocial behaviors can stem from many places including, stressors to the mother during the prenatal stage, genetics, and neurobiological factors (Allen & Marotz, 2003). Neurobiological factors refer to complications during birth, and a lack of proper personal care of the mother during pregnancy, such as using drugs, as well as low birth weight of the newborn, illness, and traumatic brain injury/prenatal brain damage (Allen & Marotz, 2003). Other risk factors for antisocial behavior can be a parent’s history of antisocial behaviors, economical strain on housing, unhealthy foods, unstable family life, unemployment, and extreme exposure to violence in the media allowing the child to become desensitized to aggression (Allen & Marotz, 2003).
The structure of family has changed with the economy and nonstandard work schedules have affected family time in the process. A more recent term created for two parent households or working families is the use of tag-team parenting (Hendrix & Parcel, 2013). Tag-team parenting means one parent works while the other parent is available to parent, then the parents switch places so the other parent can go to work, leaving few times when both parents are home together to parent (Hendrix & Parcel, 2013). Tag-team parenting means one parent works a non-standard nine to five type of job (nights, weekends) and the other works a standard nine to five job. Prior research does link negative behavior and emotional stressors of four to ten year olds and aggression with two to three year old children to that of parents with nonstandard work hours (Hendrix & Parcel, 2013). However, there are also positive effects of tag-team parenting. With this form of parenting there is always one parent available and it also provides more one on one attention between child and parent. Effective parenting bonds or parent-child attachment with their children can create closeness, encourage positive outcomes, and trust (Furstenberg & Huges, 1995 as cited in Hendrix & Parcel, 2013). These parenting bonds can be created by eating together as a family, helping children with homework, and participating together with activates and outings. A solid parent-child relationship fostered at infancy and throughout toddler and pre-kindergarten levels will increase stability as the child enters into the teenage years. When supervision from parenting lessens this is because teenagers spend more time with friends and therefore away from the home (Hendrix & Parcel, 2013). Single parent homes do not have the benefits of tag-team parenting or other forms of a two parent household. Single parents have less flexible work schedules, often due to low education completion and thus lower pay as well, causing issues with finding reliable and affordable care for their children (Hendrix & Parcel, 2013). In turn this can cause parents to leave children with unsuitable childcare, leave children alone or take their child to the workplace (Garey, 1999; Dodson & Bravo, 2005 as cited in Hendrix & Parcel, 2013). Families with only one parent at home to raise the children/child are at a higher advantage of positive parent-child bonding due to more available time (Hendrix & Parcel, 2013). Research by Hendrix and Parcel (2013) found that middle to high income children have higher reports of parent-child bonding than those of lower-income families. The authors also found that an unemployed parent, specifically the father figure, even with parent-child bonding strengths due to extra time available still creates risk factors for juvenile delinquency in their children (2013). Surprisingly children’s who mothers work overtime, and/or nights have elevated levels of delinquency than children of mothers that work a dayshift (Waldfogel, 2007 and Han, 2010, as cited in Hendrix & Parcel, 2013).
Programs and Longitudinal Studies
The introduction of federal government backed Head Start programs in 1965 was designed to include both quality preschool education and family supports. Yet critics note that the family support portion of the program needs improvements (Yoshikawa, 1995). Early Head Start and Head Start programs were created to increase the services of early childhood education to the highest risk family populations (Fagan, 2013). However, families come in all different forms and structures and therefore not all currently available programs for families will work. Policy makers and researchers need to work together to see that juvenile offending prevention will cost less in the long run for not only the juvenile judicial system but also the adult judicial system (Fagan, 2013). Policy makers need to be made aware of the connections of teenagers’ behaviors both socially and physically as they often transfer with them into adulthood and thus can create adult criminals. Therefore through more investments in early childhood intervention programs the cost of the effects of juvenile crimes can be lessened, as well as future adult rates of crimes (Aos, Lieb, Mayfield, Miller & Pennucci, 2004; Cohen, Piquero, and Jennings, 2010, as cited in Fagan, 2013).
It is important to note, and thus is mentioned throughout by authors that the risk factors of children becoming juvenile delinquents is not based on one sole early childhood predictor. In fact it is noted as multiple factors that can lead to the prevention or lessening of juvenile delinquency (Zigler et al., 1992). Early childhood programs, such as Head Start, are meant to foster educational development through additional benefits. Head Start was not created to prevent delinquency yet many of these early childhood programs have done just that (Zigler et al., 1992). Farrington (1987, as cited in Zigler et al., 1992) stated that a lack of parental supervision with children along with inappropriate childcare practices is one of the highest predecessors of juvenile delinquency. Zigler et al., (1992) stated that the multifaceted risk factors of juvenile delinquency stem from the child’s environment and the child’s genes, including neurological harm brought about by neglect or/and abuse (Cicchetti, 1989 as cited by Zigler et al., 1992). The problem arises with a lack of longitudinal data on the effects of prior delinquent juvenile behaviors to promote a strong report of the benefits of early childhood development programs. There are a few programs that do report on the importance and benefits of early intervention programs.
Perry Preschool Project was created for 123 preschoolers “deemed at risk for retarded intellectual functioning and eventual school failure” (Zigler et al., 1992, p 1000) between 1962 and 1967. Those deemed at-risk were children age three to four, of African American race, and considered to be in a low-income family (Zigler et al., 1992). The Perry Preschool provided the children with weekly home visits with teachers, monthly group meetings with other parents in the program, as well as high-quality early childhood education setting (Yoshikawa, 1995). Longitudinal studies of the children at age nineteen were tested against the control group and proved a positive effect of the Perry Preschool graduates. Perry Preschool students have fewer arrests, higher high school graduation rates, better parent teacher relationships for the children’s caregivers, higher employment rates and a reduction of “cost of delinquency and crime by approximately $2,400 per child,” (Barnett & Escobar, 1990, as cited in Zigler et al., 1992, p 1000).
Syracuse University Family Development Research Program was another program that provided positive effects of follow-ups with child participants ten years afterwards based on a longitudinal study (Zigler et al., 1992). Eligible families for this Syracuse program were of low-income, moms with only a high school education, young and single, and some had an arrest record. The program participants were selected during the mother’s third trimester and were paired with paraprofessionals (Zigler et al., 1992). The group received healthy eating information, support services within the community, in addition once the children reached six months of age the families were provided with half day care and full day care from sixteen months to the start of kindergarten (Zigler et al., 1992). Future longitudinal study for the Syracuse program against the control group proved a lessening number of delinquent behaviors and if a crime was committed it was deemed a less serious offense. Syracuse’s longitudinal study ten years later also noted a cost of $186 for a Syracuse program child versus $1,985 from the control group child with regards to court costs of committed crimes (Zigler et al., 1992).
The Yale Child Welfare Research Program ran between 1968 through 1970 and focused on the “mothers raising young children in high-risk environments” (Zigler et al., 1992, p 1001). The purpose of this program was to lessen the stressors of early parenting through paraprofessional home visits and child care along with developmental assessments (Zigler et al., 1992). Yale’s program was followed up ten years later with the control group and the outcomes proved positive for the Yale participants. The program participant mothers were more involved with the educational system, had fewer children and more age gaps between children than the control group (Zigler et al., 1992).
The Houston Parent-Child Development Center’s program was meant for mother-child, much like the Yale program, but its main focus was on Mexican-Americans with a child of one year old in a low-income family (Zigler et al., 1992). The Houston program provided families with weekend workshops, home visits, and child development focuses (Zigler et al., 1992). Longitudinal follow up studies within five to eight years after completion reported fewer behaviors than the control group. However, with an additional follow up at seven to fifteen years after the program studies reported that there was no longer a distinction between the control group and participates in the form of aggressive behaviors. The study did report that parental factors were strong by way of a better home environment (Zigler et al., 1992).
These programs report the benefits and needs of early childhood education as a form of reducing antisocial behaviors through parental training and involvement with school educators. Preventing school delinquency and fostering the connection with education and parental involvement provides a link to a developmentally stable child (Zigler et al., 1992).
Court Appointed Special Advocates or CASA started in 1977 and has grown to support CASAs or guardian ad litem (GAL) in all fifty states (Volunteering-National CASA – CASA for Children, n.d.). CASAs are volunteers who work together with biological families, foster families, lawyers, Child Protective Services, and the child. Programs such as CASA, that advocate and support children can benefit the overworked system and assist with early childhood interventions. The CASA advocates for the rights and benefits of the child who is in Child Protective Services care due to neglect and/or abuse (Volunteering-National CASA – CASA for Children, n.d.). This can be anything from needed therapies, additional services, and placement suggestions based on facts to the judge. CASAs go through a strict interview process that involves a multiple step process. A resume and references, along with an application and essay are submitted, followed by a face to face interview and then a polygraph test (Volunteering-National CASA – CASA for Children, n.d.). If the volunteer passes this process they are then finger printed and go through a twelve hour training course and need to partake in continued training each year to remain on as a CASA (Volunteering-National CASA – CASA for Children, n.d.). Once trained, a CASA spends time weekly or monthly with the child and team members to observe and support what is best for the child. When court dates approach the CASA is to write a report to the judge of their findings and then attend court hearings with the other team members (Volunteering-National CASA – CASA for Children, n.d.). While the CASA program is not directly related to reducing juvenile delinquency it can be a solid foundation of outside support to a child. Every child that is picked and paired with a CASA are children currently in custody of Child Protective Services, and some of the teenagers have open cases with the juvenile court system (Volunteering-National CASA – CASA for Children, n.d.).
CASAs also matter for older juvenile offenders who are sentenced to county jails. In a 2014 report on the success of juvenile reform in Tennessee’s Shelby County author Simkims discusses the much needed changes on the unseen side to the juvenile delinquency court system. This unseen side that had not been investigated by the Department of Justice until now found that the youth’s due process rights had not been followed; jails for juveniles were unsafe along with the use of restraining chairs, defending lawyers were not properly representing the juvenile, and an overall lack of resources for defendants’ cases (Simkins, 2014). CASA advocates can aid in the best interest of the child and provide the judge and lawyers with information that may not be apparent to the court team workgroup.
Policy and Future Changes Needed
Richard E. Tremblay and Wendy M. Craig (1995) note one of the most important factors in the future of policy and steps to preventing juvenile delinquency. The authors report what is needed most is a way to showcase a large reduction in criminal activities through early childhood intervention practices (Tremblay & Craig, 1995). While longitudinal studies report less contact of children within the juvenile justice system, those who participated in preschool programs such as Perry Preschool Project, Syracuse University Family Development Research Program, Yale Child Welfare Research Program, and the Houston Parent-Child Development Center, means law makers will want to see reduction ranges higher than the reported “0.14 to 0.55 with a mean of 0.39” (Ryan et al., 2013, p. 42). Another important public stigma with promoting the benefits of early childhood intervention is when research and policy is examined most often the attention is directed towards teenagers and not infants and preschoolers (Ryan et al., 2013). This is a valuable key for policy makers to be made aware of.
Reducing juvenile delinquency by way of early childhood intervention will involve more intense preschool and daycare programs for infants and toddlers with focus on family attachment and education (Ryan et al., 2013). Programs will need to cover not only family services, but encourage families to participate in a multitude of services on child and parent development. In addition, Child Protective Services will have to work as a team with juvenile probation officers and more closely with families (Ryan et al., 2013). With more awareness more research paths will form and additional support will be asked of the policy makers. Volunteer advocates like CASAs will continue to grow to bridge the gap between judge, family, and children at-risk in foster care. The uses of longitudinal studies are the best way to go about bringing forth the links and benefits of early intervention. Through continued awareness of the benefits of longitudinal studies policy makers will see the effects of early childhood intervention, and parenting education and supports. The cost benefits as shown in the Perry Preschool Project and the Syracuse University Family Development Research Program (Zigler et al., 1992) policy makers should see the needed support for early childhood development programs to lessen the chance of juvenile delinquency. While there will still be extremely violent and rare cases of juvenile delinquency, such as the Slender Man stabbing (Slender Man Stabbing – NBC News, 2015), and parents will still face hurdles, new research and studies will produce updated findings. Families of infants and toddlers will continue to need both nature and nurture love and support, regardless of what policies are in place, to lessen the effects of juvenile delinquency.
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