Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Protective Factors Among Youth Offenders Psychology Essay

Protective Factors Among Youth Offenders Psychology Essay Causal explanations of delinquent behavior and the identification of risk factors that characterize the young criminal offender have been the devotion of volumes of theoretical and empirical research. In an attempt to understand the causes of delinquency, and to work towards effective interventions, the juvenile justice field has adopted an approach from the public health arena (Shader, 2003), this approach toward the public health model, according to Farrington (2000), is the risk factor paradigm. Following this model, a risk assessment is thought to aid in identifying youth who possess the key risk factors for delinquency, and determining the type of intervention that will be best suited for the youths needs (Shader, 2003; Farrington, 2000). Risk factors are those conditions that are associated with a higher likelihood of negative outcomes, such as having trouble with the law and engaging in problem behavior. Such factors can compromise an individuals health, well-being, and social performance (Jessor, Van Den Bos, Vanderryn, Costa, Turbin, 1995). Findings from research on risk factors for delinquency have consistently shown these factors as predictive of increased probability of delinquency; however, this does not mean that the presence of risk factors, will definitely lead to offending or delinquency (Shader, 2003). From the risk perspective, the youth offender is depicted on a trajectory of criminality; with repeated delinquency leading to career paths in criminal activity later in life. However, not all of those exposed to risk factors and adverse circumstances, continue to commit criminal acts. Focusing on those adolescents who have desisted from delinquent involvement, and have transcended the limitations of their environment, emphasis is placed on the strengths and assets (protective factors) of youth offenders (Carr, Vandiver, 2001). Research within recent decades have brought major advances in the prediction of who becomes a serious delinquent; findings indicate that factors in several domains-in the individual, fami ly, peer group, school, and neighborhood-contribute to the prediction of delinquency (Loeber, Pardini, Stouthamer-Loeber, Raine, 2007). This work has prompted researchers to investigate the factors that may act as a safeguard, or provide a buffer between risk factors and delinquency. To better understand the protective factors that differentiate between nonrepeat and repeat youth offenders, this study further investigates the constructs of self-efficacy, empathy, problem-solving, and self-awareness in two ways: (a) in comparison to the normative data on these four internal assets and (b) in relation to risk for recidivism in youth offenders. Unlike prior studies, the current study will exclude external assets and look solely at these four internal assets of youth offenders and their relationship with recidivism within six months. For the purposes of this study and consistent with other studies of juvenile delinquency, recidivism is defined as being referred to the juvenile court or being adjudicated on another criminal other than the youths initial contact with juvenile probation. Status offenses (e.g., curfew violations, tobacco use) were not considered re-offenses. These four internal assets were chosen based on the available data and their importance, as relat ed to the development of resiliency. As a prelude to this investigation, a review of the literature is provided across the following topics as related to youth offenders: (a) juvenile delinquency in the United States, (b) theoretical background, (c) resilience, and (d) internal assets as protective factors. Juvenile Delinquency in the United States Over the last few decades, juvenile courts in the United States have seen an overall pattern of increase in the number of delinquency cases that involved juveniles charged with criminal law violations. From 1985 to 1997, the number of delinquency cases climbed steadily (63%), and in 2009, there were approximately 30% more juvenile delinquency cases than in 1985. Puzzanchera and Adams (2011) report 1.9 million arrests of persons under the age of 18 in 2009; juveniles under the age of 16 accounted for the majority (52%) of delinquency cases handled. Considering the staggering number of juvenile delinquency cases, it is important to also consider the number of those who return to juvenile court. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) report there is no national recidivism rate for juveniles. Such a rate would not have much meaning since juvenile justice systems vary so much across states. This  OJJDP report  does, however, contain a summary of findings from recidivism studies conducted at the state-level. State studies have shown rates of rearrests for youth, within 1 year of release from an institution, average 55%, and nearly 6 in 10 juveniles returned to juvenile court by the time they turned 18-years-old (OJJDP, 2012). In efforts to explain the prevalence of juvenile delinquency, theorists have proposed the existence of distinct developmental pathways with different etiologies (Farrington, 2003; Moffitt, 1993; Thornberry, Krohn, 2005; van der Geest, Blokland, Bijleveld, 2009). Theoretical Background The development of offending, has demonstrated a bell-shaped pattern, increasing in early adolescence and decreasing throughout adulthood (van der Geest et al., 2009). In an attempt to explain the process of delinquency that lead to this distinctive shape, Moffitt (1993) developed a dual taxonomy of offending behavior, which was later expanded to include a third group. Delinquency, according to Moffitt (1993), could be best understood if viewed as progressing along at least two developmental paths: those who continue to offend pre- and post- adolescence are life-course persisters, and those who only offend during adolescence are adolescent-limited offenders. In her developmental taxonomy, Moffitt argued that although delinquency is most often temporary, a small proportion of youth continue to offend beyond adolescence (1993, 2006). The large group of adolescence-limited offenders is composed of average youth from nonproblematic backgrounds. Adolescent-limited offenders have usually m aintained empathy and learn socially approved behaviors. Delinquency for these adolescents is considered normative, rather than abnormal. Thought to be rebelliously acting out personal autonomy, their minor delinquency often does not result in criminal justice involvement (Moffitt, 2006). Criminal activity for adolescent-limited offenders, is confined to the adolescent years; suggesting that causal factors may be specific to the period of adolescent development (Moffitt, 1993). According to Moffitt (1993) the rise in delinquent behaviors, for this type of offender, is markedly coincidental with the onset of puberty. This developmental period is characterized by features such as variability in biological age, increasing importance of peer relationships, and maturing of self-conscious values, attitudes, and aspirations (Moffitt, 1993). For youth considered to be classified as life-course-persistent (LCP) offenders, signs of persistent antisocial behavior can be detected early in life. Moffitt (1993) posits that there is evidence that these offenders suffer from deficits in neuropsychological abilities, such as deficits in verbal and executive functions. Verbal deficits can be seen affecting receptive listening and reading, problem solving, memory, and expressive speech. Inattention and hyperactivity are symptoms of executive deficits, which have been associated with this category of offenders (Moffitt, 2003). Personal characteristics of life-course-persistent offenders are thought to interact with their environment, produce negative outcomes, and promote delinquency across time and life domains. Moffitt (1993) suggested that the continuity of delinquent behavior may occur because these individuals fail to learn conventional prosocial alternatives, miss out on opportunities to acquire and practice such alternatives at each stage of development, and become ensnared in a deviant life-style by crimes consequences (p. 683). Life-course-persistent offenders are most at-risk for continued criminality when individual and family-level risk factors coincide (Moffitt, 1993; Thornberry, Krohn, 2005, van der Geest et al., 2009). In 2006, Moffitt added a third group to her taxonomy: low-level chronic offenders. These youth are thought to persist in delinquent activities, much like the life-course-persistent offenders, but do not increase in severity, or participate in serious or violent acts. In order to understand differences across these three developmental trends for delinquency, researchers have examined differences across factors that influence the different behavioral outcomes of desistence versus persistence in crime for youth offenders. The social-psychological framework known as Problem-Behavior-Theory was initially developed for a study of alcohol abuse and other problem behaviors in a small tri-ethnic community. Since then, problem-behavior theory has been employed in a variety of studies to account for a variety of adolescent behaviors including delinquency. Problem behavior is defined as behavior that departs from the norms-both social and legal- of the larger society (Jessor, 1987). Problem-behavior theory, according to Jessor (1987), has a psychosocial perspective, rather than biological, medical, or genetic. The psychological, social, and behavioral characteristics of a juvenile, as well as the relevant dimensions of the larger social environment and the attributes of the situation, provide an explanation of problem behavior (Jessor, 1987, p. 331). Problem-behavior theory emphasizes three systems of explanatory variables: perceived-environment system, personality system, and behavior system (Jessor, 1987). E ach of these systems, are thought to generate a dynamic state- proneness- which specifies the likelihood of involvement in problem behavior. Variables, within each of these systems, act as either controls against or instigations to involvement in problem behavior. Variables that control against problem behavior are synonymous with protective factors, while variables considered to be instigations to involvement in problem behavior are synonymous with risk factors. Within each system, it is the balance of instigations and controls that determines psychosocial proneness for involvement in problem behavior; and it is the balance of instigations and controls across the three systems that determines the adolescents overall level of problem behavior proneness-or psychosocial unconventionality (Jessor, 1987). Values, expectations, beliefs, attitudes, and orientations toward self and others, are the different variables within the personality system. When juveniles are lacking the controls ag ainst involvement in problem behavior within the personality system, they are said to have personality proneness. Variables such as lower self-esteem, lower value on academic achievement, and more external control, are found in those who have personality proneness to problem behaviors (Jessor, 1987). Problem-behavior theory has been expanded to include research that tests other factors that may strengthen the predictive process. In a recent study, several protective factors were analyzed independently in order to determine their effect on risk behaviors taking place in relation to this theory. Similar to conventional behaviors, protective factors are absent of risk and act opposite of risk factors or unconventional behaviors (Jessor, Van Den Bos, Vanderryn, Costa, Turbin, 1995). Through analyzing middle school children in this longitudinal study researchers concluded that protective factors had a strong effect on adolescent behavior over time and certain factors even influence gender and ethnicity more directly (Jessor, et al., 1995).   Resilience As investigators studied risk, they began realizing that there were children flourishing in the midst of adversity; this led to the study of resilience (Garmezy, 1974; Rutter, 1979; Werner, Smith, 1982; Masten, Coatsworth, 1998). In an effort to account for individual differences in outcome in which exposure to risk was essentially held constant, Garmezy (1985) began to articulate factors that may serve to be protective against risk. Garmezy (1985) used three categories to organize the protective variables: (a) dispositional attributes (individual differences), (b) family attributes, and (c) extrafamilial circumstances, while exploring protective factors as moderators of the relationship of risk to behavioral outcomes (Jessor et al., 1995). The Kauai Longitudinal Study is one of the most influential studies of individual resilience and protective factors in children. Following 698 children born in 1955, over a 40 year span, Werner and Smith explored the impact of a variety of biological and psychosocial risk factors, stressful life events, and protective factors on the development of a multiethnic cohort (Werner, Smith, 1992). Findings from this study demonstrated that both internal and external factors work together to strengthen resilience in children, as they moved toward adulthood. Characteristics of resilient children, during early childhood, were found to be predictive of resilience in later years. When these children progressed through middle childhood and adolescence, they were characterized by their impressive communication and problem-solving skills. Findings also suggested other salient protective factors that were operated in the lives of the resilient youth. These factors included an internal locus of cont rol, self-efficacy, and a positive self-concept (Werner, 1995). According to Werner, the development of human resiliency is none other than the process of healthy human development-a dynamic process in which personality and environmental influences interact in a reciprocal, transactional relationship. The range of outcomes is determined by the balance between risk factors, stressful life events, and protective factors (Werner, Smith, 1982). Developmental asset framework. Resilience research supports a developmental theory of change (Bowlby, 1969; Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Erikson, 1963; Rogoff, 2003). According to the Search Institute (2003) as children move through their developmental stages, they acquire a set of personal assets, which help them become resilient and face the challenges and opportunities ahead. Focus on prevention, protective factors, and resiliency, the framework of developmental assets foundations are rooted in empirical studies of child and adolescent development. The original configuration of 30 developmental assets was described in several publications (Benson, 1990; Benson, 1996; Benson, Espeland, Galbraith, 1994) as well as in data-based reports developed for each of 460 school districts. These reports were based on Search Institutes survey, Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors, designed to measure the developmental assets. In 1996, the model was expanded to 40 developmental assets; gr ouped into 20 external assets and 20 internal assets (Search Institute, 2003). These assets, both internal and external, have been associated with protection against deviant behaviors; the more assets youth report, the less likely they are to engage in risk behaviors (Benson, Scales, Leffert, Roehlkkepartain, 1999). The external assets refer to the positive developmental experiences of relationships and opportunities that adults provide and are grouped into four categories: (a) support, (b) empowerment, (c) boundaries and expectations, and (d) constructive use of time. The internal assets are competencies, skills, and self-perceptions that young people develop gradually over time. Benard (1991) suggested four categories of overlapping personal strengths, or internal assets, of resilient children, which include social competence, problem-solving, autonomy and identity, and a sense of purpose. Benson, Leffert, Scales and Blyth (1998) have placed the internal assets in four similar categories: (a) commitment to learning, (b) positive values, (c) social competenci es, and (d) positive identity. Regardless of terminology, each of these four categories of personal strengths encompasses many inter-related individual characteristics associated with healthy development and life success. Research has demonstrated a clear association between the internal factors and the external factors, and their relationship to the development of juvenile delinquency; however, little is known about the direct effect that these factors have on an individual, once criminal behavior has been initiated. Understanding how these factors contribute to desistance from crime, is of critical importance for sustained post-onset interventions (Kazemian, 2007). Providing individuals with the resources and the skills to maintain desistance efforts is needed for rehabilitation and reintegration. Kazemian (2007) highlights the importance of viewing desistance as a process that occurs within individuals. Focusing on within-individual change, allows monitoring progress, and is more valuable for guiding post-onset intervention strategies; differences in internal factors that promote desistance from crime, are easier to manipulate through individual intervention, than the external factors between those who persist and those who desist (Kazemian, 2007). Internal Assets as Protective Factors The ongoing, dynamic process of resilience, reiterates the need for a better understanding of the factors contributing to this process. What factors are likely to build resiliency? What factors seem to alter the predictions of negative outcome and enable individuals to circumvent conditions of great adversity and stress? Once the onset of delinquency or antisocial activity has occurred, the same dynamic processes must be considered in order to understand the internal and external factors that promote or inhibit desistance within individuals (Kazemian, 2007; Benard, 1998; Mulvey et al., 2004). Mulvey et al. (2004) conceptualize the desistance process as involving the interactions among dynamic changes in psychological states, developmental capacities, and social contexts; therefore, developmental changes occurring in late adolescence, or the time of desistance, must also be considered. Review of the literature surrounding desistance, suggests that the desistance is an ongoing process of change over time. Findings also suggest that the desistance process is developmentally based, and that dynamic psychological traits differentiate adolescents who continue to commit criminal offenses from those who desist (Mulvey et al., 2004; Decoene, Bijtteber, 2008; Loeber et al., 2007). Preliminary investigations of factors related to desistance from youth offending provide increasing evidence for the importance of internal assets as protective factors. Traditionally, researchers have placed youth offenders within a high-risk, nonresilient category (Ferguson, Lynskey, 1996; White, Moffitt, Silva, 1989). Moving away from the risk perspective, by emphasizing the strengths and assets of youth offenders, and looking at those adolescents who have desisted from delinquent involvement, researchers have begun to identify protective factors in resilient children. Carr and Vandiver (2001) applied the knowledge gleaned from resiliency research to the domain of juvenile delinquency. This study sought to identify the stressors, risk factors, and protective factors among a population of youth offenders, and to determine if these factors are associated with recidivism status. Findings suggested that protective factors play an important role in decreasing recidivism among youth o ffenders. Additionally, personal characteristics were found to independently differentiate the non-repeat offenders and repeat offenders (Carr, Vandiver, 2001). Similarly, in an examination of factors discriminating between recidivists and non-recidivists, self-esteem, self-efficacy, expectations of future success, and resilience were the personal attributes expected to be discriminators (Benda, 2001). Social Competence. The social competencies assets include a personal skill set needed to deal with the myriad choices, challenges, and opportunities presented in complex societies. Social competence is thought to develop with the social contexts and includes planning and decision making, interpersonal and cultural competence, resistance skills, and the ability to resolve conflicts (Benson, Leffert, Scales, Blyth, 1998). Social competence, according to Luthar, is considered to be a particularly useful indicator of childrens overall positive adaptation or wellness (Luthar, Burak, 2000, p. 30). Similarly, Kholberg, LaCrosse, and Ricks (1972), found social competence to be among the broad developmental-adaptational attributes, that were the best predictors of later adult outcomes. This category includes the characteristics, skills, and attitudes essential to forming relationships and positive attachments to others; such as empathy and caring, compassion, forgiveness, and communication. Studies on resiliency, not only document these attributes, studies done on individuals already experiencing problems with delinquency, crime, mental illness, and substance abuse have consistently identified the lack of these qualities. Deficits within social competence have been associated with a history of higher stress reactivity and lower self-control of attention and behavior (Masten, Coatsworth, 1998). Additionally, there is evidence that individuals with the poorest social competence have the worst prognoses and highest relapse rate, and childhood competence level is predictive of severity of adult psychiatric problems (Benard, 1998). Empathy has been defined as, an emotional reaction elicited by and congruent with anothers emotional state or situation (Hoffman, 1982). According to Eisenberg, Miller, Shell, McNalley, and Shea (1991), empathy begins being expressed in children during late elementary school and beyond; expressed through reasoning, which is reflective of abstract principles, internalized affective reactions, and self-reflective sympathy and perspective taking. Empathy, according to Hoffman (1984), is important for prosocial behavior, as it functions as a motive for moral behavior. Empathic children are more inclined to consider the implications of their actions for the welfare of others and to refrain from delinquent behaviors. As such, empathic capacities function as a deterrent against certain types of delinquent behaviors. Individuals with higher empathy scores, tend to be morally mature (Hogan, 1973). In fact, empathy has consistently been found to be positively associated with adolescents prosoc ial moral judgment and is a strong predictor of males prosocial behavior (Benard, 2004; Eisenberg et al., 1991). With age, moral judgment becomes a component of individuals prosocial disposition, or lack thereof. Understanding, and sensitivity to, others feelings, thoughts, and experiences, directly affects behavior as well as indirectly affecting moral cognitions. As the root of morality and mutual respect, empathy is considered a hallmark of resilience and is essential to healthy development. Problem-solving. Abilities such as planning, flexibility, critical thinking, and insight fall into the category of problem-solving. Several studies have found planful behavior to be the primary internal asset of individuals that helped them avoid choosing troubled mates. Studies have also demonstrated flexibility as a critical life skill; flexibility is one of the most often named personal resources, of adults asked what personal strength has helped them deal with stress and challenge (Benard, 2004). More effective problem-solving skills have been found in stress-resilient children and are strong indicators of adult adaptation and functioning (Luthar, Zigler, 1990; Werner, Smith, 1982, 1992, 2001). Problem-solving, according to Masten and Coatsworth (1998), requires skills useful for coping. In a study of offenders and non-offenders, Fougere, Daffern, and Thomas (2012) found those considered to be resilient, had stronger coping skills and better problem-solving skills. Findings also suggested that those considered to be resilient, were also more likely to be the non-reoffenders or succeeders. By the same token, offending behavior has been linked to cognitive predispositions, such as interpersonal cognitive problem-solving skills. Deficits in these skills have been associated with deficits in interactions with others (Kazemian, 2007). Furthermore, Tate, Reppucci, and Mulvey (1995), found chronically violent individuals to have constricted problem-solving skills. Autonomy and identity. The category of autonomy includes attributes revolving around the development of ones sense of self, identity, and of power; such as self-efficacy and self-awareness. Positive identity, according to Erik Eriksons (1968) theory of psychosocial development, is the critical developmental task of adolescence. Research has confirmed that a clear sense of identity is associated with optimal psychological functioning in terms of personal well-being and the absence of anxiety and depression. Positive self-identity is closely aligned with positive self-evaluation or self-esteem. These characteristics are not only critical to normative development but have consistently been documented as characteristics describing resilient children and adolescents (Masten, Coatsworth, 1998; Werner, Smith, 1992). Self-awareness. Self-awareness is a nonreactive, nonjudgmental attention to inner states (Goleman, 1995, p.47, 315). It includes observing ones thinking, feelings, attributions or explanatory style as well as paying attention to ones moods, strengths, and needs as they arise, without getting caught up in emotion. Self-aware individuals, according to Mead (1934), have the ability to look at themselves as others do. They can adopt an outside social perception of themselves. Self-awareness, as posited by Diener and Srull (1979), increases adherence to normative standards. Individuals, who are high in this asset, are more concerned with their social selves and are more likely to avoid anti-normative behavior. Studies of desistance indicate the importance of individual-level motivational traits in change toward positive behavior (Mulvey et al., 2004; Twyford, 2012). Mulvey et al. (2004) have suggested agency as a potentially relevant factor for promoting or inhibiting desistance. A sense of personal agency, is a pivotal role in cognitive development, and includes the first stage of self-awareness. A change in the way the individual sees him or her self, and who they believe they are, are important to the process of personal reformation and desistance (Mulvey et al., 2004). Self-awareness is considered a hallmark of successful and healthy human development; it is the fundamental internal asset upon which other assets are built (Werner, 1989; 1992). Self-efficacy. Self-efficacy has been defined as, ones belief in ones ability to succeed in specific situations. Ones sense of self-efficacy can play a major role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges; affecting behavior through its impact on motivational, decisional, and affective determinants (Bandura, 1977; Caprara, Gerbino, Paciello, Di Giunta, Pastorelli, 2010). Research has demonstrated self-efficacy to be a critical component of developing ones identity and sense of self-the major developmental task of adolescent years (Benard, 2004). Self-efficacious children and adolescents have developed a sense of personal control. A sense of personal control is essential for individuals to surmount serious social and contextual adversities (Scales, Benson, Leffert, Blyth, 2000). When individuals have a sense of personal control, they are better able at recognizing what is out of their control and to understand that they are able to control the course of their lives, regardless of what cannot be controlled. Confidence in the personal control over their lives and their life choices, or a sense of personal agency, is crucial for adolescents to make any significant and lasting changes (Mulvey et al., 2004; Twyford, 2012). This may be, in part, because individuals with high self-efficacy beliefs are better at monitoring their behavior. According to Caprara et al., (2010) self-efficacious children may learn to cope and regulate temperamental and behavioral problems, by relying on cognitive and emotional resources. Studies have sho wn the positive influence that self-efficacy beliefs have on academic achievement and prosocial behavior and their positive role in counteracting antisocial careers. Self-efficacy is said to supply adolescents with the cognitive, emotional, and motivational resources to cope successfully with transition to adulthood (Caprara et al., 2010). Over the past few decades, researchers have begun to focus on both risk factors and protective factors; recognizing their interactive roles throughout youth development. Findings have demonstrated a clear association between the internal factors and the external factors, and their relationship to the development of juvenile delinquency; however, little is known about the direct effect that these factors have on an individual, once criminal behavior has been initiated. Therefore, as empathy, problem-solving, self-awareness, and self-efficacy have demonstrated to be a predictor of and a positive influence on prosocial behavior, these assets require further investigation to determine the extent to which they promote desistance and if they are indeed internal protective factors. Currently, research regarding the individual personal strengths, or internal assets, and their relation to youth offending patterns has been limited. The present study investigated the protective effects of the internal assets of empathy, problem-solving, self-awareness, and self-efficacy in a youth offender population. Specifically, the proposed study sought to explore these assets and their ability to differentiate between non-repeat and repeat youth offenders. It was predicted that youth offenders would have lower scores on the internal assets, than a normative sample. Furthermore, it was predicted that youth offenders with higher scores on the internal assets would be less likely to recidivate within a six-month period, than youth offenders with lower internal assets scores.

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