Age-Graded Attachment Theory:
Conduct Disorder and Juvenile Delinquency
Becky K. da Cruz, José de Arimatéia da Cruz
Armstrong Atlantic State University
Juveniles were perceived as “super-predators” during the 1990s. High profile figures such as Bob Dole, a 1996 presidential candidate, perpetuated the myth of juvenile super-predators when he warned the public that if policies to reduce juvenile crime are not developed, youths will develop into the most vicious criminals yet (n.a., 1996). Although the juvenile crime rate was dropping during the same time, research shows that juvenile conduct disorder is predictive of adult criminality. This paper will analyze the theory and practices addressing juvenile delinquency as a result of conduct disorder. It will evaluate the intervention and prevention programs and provide recommendations that can be pursued to reduce crime and delinquency.
Juvenile delinquency will be better understood in light of the historic social control theory, the contemporary self-control theory, and the integrated cognitive antisocial potential (ICAP) theory and developmental taxonomy as integrative theoretical approaches. These theories will be analyzed in light of basic legal tenants of the juvenile justice system, such as parens patriae. The paper will then consider the preventative and intervention programs successful in creating secure attachments between the child and parent thereby reducing risk of conduct disorder behaviors and offer recommendations to improve the juvenile delinquency rates. Finally, based on what has been learned from past theories, principle, and practices, a new theoretical approach will be offered to better explain juvenile delinquency as a result of conduct disorder. In advancing this new theory, this paper utilizes a case study to demonstrate the utility of innovative approaches to address delinquent conduct.
The case analyzed in this paper involves the armed bank robbery at the hands of two youths – one 13, the other 16-years old – in Savannah, Georgia on June 2nd, 2006. According to Skutch (2006), the juveniles passed a note to the bank teller demanding money and informing the teller that they were armed. Although it was speculated that these youths would be transferred to the adult court system due to the seriousness of the offense, they remain in juvenile court custody. The youths’ defense counsel asserts that an adult family member is to blame for using these two juveniles to do his “dirty work” (Skutch, 2006). Moreover, the criminal record of the guardians of these youths are “very disturbing” according to the district attorney prosecuting the case (Skutch, 2006). The defense counsel, therefore, portrays the defendants as victims and will likely argue that the justice system should not victimize these youths a second time. Rather than reacting in a punitive manner, rehabilitation will be sought by the defense.
Trends and Literature Review
Conduct disorder, according to the DSM-IV, is diagnosed when a youth demonstrates persistent behavior violates the rights of others such as threatening others with weapons to steal from them as in the case with the two Savannah youths arrested for armed robbery. Although conduct disorder occurs in relatively few individuals, it is predictive of progressively delinquent behaviors (Burke, Loeber, Mutchka, and Lahey, 2002). Perhaps if the guardians, teachers, or other adults in the lives of the youths who committed the armed robbery in early June of this year recognized the risk factors for conduct disorder, an intervention program could have been instituted to prevent the felony act and subsequent penalties the youths will have to pay if adjudicated delinquent.
In reviewing the literature, several risk factors for conduct disorders have been identified. The most commonly noted risk factors are child rearing, child abuse, parental conflict, antisocial parents, negative peer influences, socioeconomic factors, low IQ, and impulsiveness (Farrington, 2005; Kann and Hanna, 2000; Barnow, Lucht, and Freyberger, 2005). Negative parenting and peer influences are the focus of this paper since these risk factors are the strongest indicators for juvenile conduct disorder. The family is the primary center for socialization for children. Regoli and Hewitt (2003) argue that youths develop their personalities during these initial years with their parents and so the child can learn inappropriate behaviors from their parents. Studies reveal that harsh parenting styles and the perceived parental rejection of the youth significantly contributes to juvenile delinquency (Barnow, Lucht, and Freyberger, 2005).
Moreover, parents who engage in antisocial conduct such as overdrinking, taking drugs, and becoming aggressive within the presence of their children often have children who demonstrate conduct disorders (Farrington, 2005). The parental relationship that tends to follow antisocial behavior is not only destructive to the parents but also to the youth. Jenkins and Smith (1991) found that parental discourse such as fighting, abuse, and neglect was positively related to poor juvenile behaviors. The research indicates that juvenile delinquency results from antisocial parenting styles (Farrington, 2005; Barnow, et al., 2005; Beck and Shaw, 2004; Burke, et al., 2002). Barnow, et al.’s (2005) correlation study found that not only did antisocial parenting have a direct affect on aggressive and delinquent behavior in their children, but also perceived parental rejection was found to be associated with juvenile delinquency. These findings suggest that the more warmth parents show to their children the less behavioral problems they encounter. However, perceived parental rejection and level of warmth a child feels from their parents is also indicative of other social disorders such as anxiety and phobias.
The child’s antisocial conduct may develop as early as its developmental stages during gestation. Beck and Shaw (2005) and Burke, et al. (2002) argue that not only the family environment but the perinatal environment are important to consider when studying youth conduct. Although Beck and Shaw’s (2005) study only considered male antisocial conduct, both studies found that complications during pregnancy are positively related to later delinquent behaviors in the child. The family environment can cause further deleterious effects. For example, Beck and Shaw’s (2005) study demonstrated that parents who rebuff their children and have continuous conflict within the home, in addition to the prenatal complications, are more likely to care for a child with conduct disorder. Similiarly, Burke, et al. (2002) found that poor communication between child and parent leads to the risk of persistent conduct disorder by as much as three times the normal rate.
Like Beck and Shaw (2005), Cauffman, Steinberg, and Piquero (2005) studied youth self control and biological factors as they relate to delinquency in order to demonstrate that self-control is not the only factor related to delinquency. In fact, Cauffman, et al. (2005) highly support integration of biological theories with psychological theories as a result of their findings. The study supports the fact that self control is significantly correlated with delinquency. Furthermore, biological factors such as neurological abnormalities contribute to juvenile conduct disorder. Therefore, there is a segment of juvenile delinquents who, according to Cauffman, et al. (2005), offend due to biological and psychological reasons.
One biologically based conduct disorder is ADHD. According to Babinski and Lambert’s (1999) study, the symptoms of ADHD can predict delinquent behavior as the youth develops. Specifically, it is the impulsivity, not the inattention, which increases the likelihood of delinquency more so than the adolescents with conduct disorder alone. However, youths with conduct disorder were more likely to engage in more serious crimes, whereas adolescence with ADHD are at an increased risk for less serous crimes such as public disorder and property crime, which are related to their impulsivity and inability to delay gratification.
The relationship a youth maintains with peers is also often correlated with problematic behaviors. Although Barnow, et al.’s (2005) study did not confirm that peer rejection determined the delinquency rate of juveniles, peer rejection is indicative of aggressiveness. Similarly, Werner and Crick (2004) examined the relationship between peer affiliation and aggressiveness. According to the authors, peer rejection was positively correlated to aggression. Werner and Crick (2004) emphasized the importance of the peer selection process which leads youths who are rejected by their conventional peers to seek out more nonconventional friends by default. The result is a socialization of aggressive attributes. This study differentiates between males and females in peer relationships themselves but overall both boys and girls are more aggressive when they associate with aggressive friends.
As Gorman-Smith and Loeber (2005) point out, results such as those identified by Barnow et al. (2005) and Werner and Crick (2004) are somewhat misleading when male and female adolescents are studied for conduct disorders. Gorman-Smith and Loeber (2005) argue that boys tend to be more aggressive during childhood, are at a greater risk of developing conduct disorder, and engage in delinquent behaviors in greater numbers. However, girls also exhibit disruptive behavior and partake in the similar types of delinquency as boys. The question for Gorman-Smith and Loeber (2005) was not whether girls are susceptible to conduct disorder, but if girls follow the same delinquency pattern as boys. The authors assert that boys follow a predictable developmental sequence of behaviors that progressively increase in delinquency. The study finds that girls similarly demonstrate a progressively antisocial path to delinquent conduct, albeit not as consistently as boys. Interestingly though, there is no significant correlation between family and peer involvement in female conduct problems, whereas boys who engage in aggressive and violent behaviors are affected by family and peer factors.
Lynam and Miller (2004) add support to the argument that lack of self-control is at the heart of conduct disorder. In this study, Lynam and Miller (2004) concentrated on impulsiveness and its relationship to deviance. First, impulsiveness, only one element of self control according to Lynam and Miller, can be dissected into four character traits. These traits include the adolescent’s feeling of urgency, need to seek out sensations, lack of perseverance, and absence of premeditation. It is the combination of these traits that determine the level of impulsiveness and lack of self-control. Like Gorman-Smith and Loeber (2005), Lynam and Miller found little difference between male and female impulsiveness. However, this study differs from Gorman-Smith and Loeber (2005) by suggesting that it is too simplistic to rely on a one-dimensional theory such as self-control to explain juvenile delinquency.
Historic, Contemporary, and Emerging Theories, Principles, and Practices
Although each child is born an antisocial creature, most learn to conform to society’s expectations of appropriate conduct (Simons, Simons, and Wallace, 2004). Unfortunately, some youths are not provided the tools to make the transition to a socially acceptable being. Hirschi relates delinquent conduct with a broken bond a juvenile has with society (Williams and McShane, 2004). The more disassociated a youth is to social groups such as the family and peers, the more likely they are to commit delinquent acts. The key is to promote positive adult influences in the lives of children. Hirschi argued that the most important factor for delinquency is the attachment to parents. Children detached from their parents will reject parental influence and are more susceptible to delinquent influences from social groups such as peers (Williams and McShane, 2004). To prevent delinquent acts by youths, including robbery, this theory encourages parents to work toward a socially conducive relationship with their children and teach a respect for the law and social norms.
The modern version of Hirschi’s social control theory is the general theory of crime, or the self-control theory, by Gottredson and Hirschi. Self-control theory maintains that in addition to external forces of control, such as parental controls and conformist peer groups, adolescents who develop internal controls are less likely to engage in delinquent acts. Internal controls include a positive self-image, ability to manage frustration, and the capacity to resist negative influences (Williams and McShane, 2004). Reckless (cited in Williams and McShane, 2004) argued that internal urges toward deviancy result from a need for immediate gratification, restlessness, and a hostile attitude.
Gottfredson and Hirschi (cited in Unnever, et al., 2003) claim that low-self control is the principal source of juvenile delinquency and adult crime. Criminality is more common among juveniles and adults who react impulsively, are short-tempered, and are self-centered. As a result of ineffective parenting, children develop low self-control. Once low self-control is learned, children will find it more difficult to control their impulses throughout their lives. Unnever, et al. (2003), supporting Gottfredson and Hirschi, contend low self-control is significantly related to crime and delinquency and is thereby a predictor of future anti-social behaviors.
Chapple’s (2005) study further demonstrates a link between low self-control, peer relationships, and juvenile delinquency. The level of self-control a juvenile exhibits determines whether peers will reject them. Furthermore, adolescents with low self-control seek out others with low self-control. In other words, delinquent juveniles select delinquent peer groups rather than delinquent peer groups instilling delinquent attitudes in other members of their group. Chapple (2005) seems to have found the answer to the chicken and egg question as it relates to peer group delinquency. In fact, this relationship of low self control and delinquency explains the continued delinquency in older youths as the influence of peers diminishes. In other words, it is not the peer group who makes the juvenile delinquent, the juvenile who is already delinquent seeks out membership in a group of other delinquents.
Building on the social control and self-control theories, a new theoretical approach proffered here is the age-graded attachment theory to address the specific behavioral challenges of children with conduct disorder. Researchers believe that risk of conduct disorder begins very early – as early as a child’s gestational development. Svanberg (1998) argues that there are three types of children: the securely attached, the anxiously avoidant, and the anxiously ambivalent. Depending on the attachment a family, particularly the mother, provides to the child, the child’s ability to transition from states of distress to feelings of safety will be altered. It is the child who receives unresponsive, unaffectionate, and/or rejecting care that develops into and anxiously avoidant child. These children ultimately adapt to their environment and act out compulsively and characteristically of children with conduct disorder.
Since attachment needs for children is dependent on their life-stage, parents must adjust their bond of security to their child accordingly. Svanberg (1998) explains that as children age, they seek more exploration. Parents will need to learn how to adjust to their child’s needs. Risks for detachment occur when mothers are highly stressed due to financial pressures, marital conflicts, depression, drug abuse, unresolved trauma or loss, and dysfunctional attitudes toward the child. Further risk of detachment occurs when the parent lacks the skills in conflict resolution. Rather than reacting in a firm and consistent manner, the parent may overact or fail to react damaging the feeling of safety with the parent. It is a family-centered model of support that is essential for the development of a well-adjusted youth. Only when the child can predict consistently the outcomes of their behaviors will they adapt healthy attachments to parents, friends, and the rest of the community.
Major Integrative Theoretical Approaches
Gottfredson and Hirschi have argued that self-control unilaterally influences delinquency and criminality. However, the studies referenced in this paper suggest the need for a comprehensive theoretical approach to juvenile delinquency. In order to combine the various risk factors into an all inclusive theory, Farrington (2005) has developed the integrated cognitive antisocial potential (ICAP) theory. The strain, control, learning, labeling, and rational choice theories are used in one theory to demonstrate that conduct disorder is in fact determined by a cognitive process that weighs consequences and opportunity. At the heart of this theory is the difference between short term antisocial potential and long term antisocial potential. It is the long term antisocial potential that is determined by impulsiveness, strain, modeling, socialization processes, and life events (Farrington, 2005). The short term antisocial potential is strictly dependent on situational factors.
The striking aspects of the ICAP theory is that first, it accounts for youths in similar situations who do not commit a delinquent act since it is based on the potential antisocial conduct. Second, it incorporates the notion that antisocial acts rely on the interaction of the individual with his or her environment including parents and peers. Farrington’s (2005) theory helps to explain the two youths in this case by incorporating their likely impulsiveness i.e. their inability to think through the consequences of their acts, the strain placed upon them by family members to conform to expectations as an adult family member allegedly coerced their participation in the armed robbery, their modeling older male family members they likely learned many of their behaviors from, and life events such as their relationship with their parents and extended family that was in conflict and less than warm.
Another well developed integrated approach to juvenile delinquency theory is Moffitt’s developmental taxonomy. Moffitt’s theory (cited in Cauffman, Steinberg, and Piquero, 2005) categorizes youths into three groups: abstainers, adolescent-limited delinquents, and life-course-persistent delinquents. A small proportion of juveniles abstain from all delinquent behaviors; however, juveniles who do engage in delinquent conduct can be distinguished based on the length of time in which they partake in unacceptable behaviors. For example, youths who limit their delinquent activities to the adolescent years are considered to be delinquent as a result of developmental immaturity and negative peer influences. This adolescent-limited delinquency is considered to be a typical developmental stage for youths especially due to the fact that much of this delinquency occurs in groups. This group of juveniles is then able refrain from antisocial conduct as they adapt to adult roles.
More troubling is the life-course-persistent delinquent who possesses antisocial tendencies such as aggression as early as three years of age. These same anti-social toddlers developed into juveniles who physically attack others, cut school, shoplift, and other criminal behaviors. According to Cauffman, et al. (2005), these youths have not only inherited cognitive deficits and difficult temperaments, but the social environment in that include severed family bonds also contributes to conduct disorder throughout their life. In constrast to Gottfredson and Hirschi’s theory that the single individual characteristic of self-control contributes to delinquency, both Farrington and Moffitt developed theories with an emphasis on multiple factor delinquency. Based on the knowledge acquired with the various theoretical approaches, the treatment and disposition of the juveniles in the Savannah armed robbery case can be explored.
Basic Legal Tenets
Parens Patriae created the power of the juvenile court to act as the guardian of juveniles in cases when the juvenile is found to be delinquent (Binder, Geis, and Bruce, 2001). The Court in Ex parte Crouse (1838, p. 12) stated that, “The right of parental control is a natural, but not an inalienable one.” It was this case in which the Court established its right to supersede parental rights for the interest of the child and of all society. The Court in In Re Gault (1967) held that juveniles have the right of due process in juvenile court when there is a possibility of confinement. Although the right to trial is not guaranteed so as to protect their identity other Constitutional rights exists such as the right to counsel and the right to confront witnesses (McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 1971).
System and Theory Evaluation
It can be argued that the two Savannah youths committed the armed robbery as a result of the broken bond between them and their families, friends, and broader community as Hirschi (1969) suggested. It is possible that these young boys were alienated from socially conformists groups. If this is the case, the boys committed this criminal act, at least in part, due to the broken bonds with significant others. The youths also most likely lacked commitment to conventional goals such as successfully completing school, playing on a sports team, or keeping a job. The lack of involvement in conventional activities allows for more idle time for youths to engage in delinquent acts. Furthermore, if these youths do not value social conformity, delinquency is imminent. Due to the fact that the boys were following the command of their criminal male relative, they likely had adopted, or were in the process of adopting, a value system contrary to social conformist behaviors.
The fact that these two adolescents chose to be friends with the older male relative follows Hirschi’s (1969) belief that deviants choose other deviants to befriend and are distant from other peers does not directly address delinquency as a result of conduct disorder. Simmons, et al. (2004) argue that the most important bond a child has is with their parents. The lack of such a bond transcends the other relations a juvenile maintains with the outside world. Gottredson and Hirschi’s (1990) self-control theory places the influence of parenting in a more central role as a result of the role parents play as the first teachers of self-control to their children. When parents are not successful in teaching their children the ability to delay gratification, delinquency is likely.
The motive for the armed robbery by the two Savannah youths is not known. However, it is obvious that robbing a bank provides instant social rewards such as approval from the adult family friend and quick wealth. They also demonstrate hostility toward others by robbing the bank teller at gunpoint, a common characteristic for youths with conduct disorder. Unable to quell their desire for sudden material goods and inept at refusing the demands of the older male influence, these youths engaged in a felonious act. These boys are of the age (13 and 16 years old) to “know better.” Common law provides for a conclusive presumption that youths under the age of seven lack the ability to form requisite criminal intent. However, it is a rebuttable presumption of incapacity for youths between 7 and 14 and juveniles older than 14 are considered to have the ability to develop criminal intent (Reid, 2004). Cunningham (2006, p. 364) explains that a belief common in the law is a child who commits a serious “adult crime” deserves "adult time" because the child has, “by virtue of having committed the act itself, demonstrated that he is no longer a child but is instead a dangerous adult.”
Instead of developing adequate discipline within their children as they have grown and matured, these parents allowed the criminal family member’s influence the boys how to capitalize on criminal opportunity. Gottfredson and Hirschi (cited in Simons, et al., 2004) believe that self-control can be taught only until age 10 and would argue that these two youths are destined for a life of crime. Still, not all antisocial youths grow to be adult criminals. In fact, according to Simons, et al. (2004), only about half of all children with conduct disorder engage in serious delinquency as juveniles and only half of those juveniles develop into criminal adults. Nevertheless, both the external and internal controls over the juveniles involved in this bank robbery were lacking, as such, it is appropriate for the court, under the doctrine of parens patriae, to exert control over the lives of these teens.
Thornberry (1987) explains that one particular theory does not account for the ever changing psychological and social development of the youth. One theory may be helpful to explain the reason for delinquency at that point in time whereas others are pertinent at other various instances. A community-based approach only addresses the lack of attachment a youth has with community ties. Instead, Thornberry (1987) argues, the goal should be more encompassing. Besides developing the bonds with societal groups as the social control theory would suggest, the youths will also need to be taught socially appropriate behaviors i.e age-graded suitable conduct. According to the learning theory, the youths were likely taught or are modeling anti-social behaviors from the older male relative. The rationale is that delinquency arises as a process of interacting with society and the juvenile system’s response should be “reciprocal.” In other words, the theory must evolve as the youth develops. The interactionist approach to juvenile delinquency demonstrates the paternalistic nature the state under parens patriae by attempting to fix the delinquent behavior patterns by replacing them with positive social conduct. This doctrine assumes the role of rehabilitation of these youths and in so doing must develop methods that are most successful.
Assessment of the Historical and Contemporary Interventions
If the two juveniles are adjudicated delinquent, they should be required to attend rehabilitation programs while detained as well as once they are released. The American Probation and Parole Association (n.d.) advocates for juvenile justice systems to address the needs of the most violent youth to those children who are victims of abuse and neglect in an aftercare program. Such programs must be responsive to the needs of youths in order to protect society by eliminating the risk of delinquent behaviors rather than addressing such behaviors after a crime has been committed. The principal of least restrictive means should be the goal of these programs with assessment of risk imperative in the supervision decisions in order to allow for bonding with family and community.
A current rehabilitation project in Savannah to assist juveniles like the two youths in this case study is the Savannah Impact Program (SIP). SIP is a joint effort among the Savannah Police Department, the juvenile court, the state’s parole and probation offices, the Georgia Department of Labor, and the Gateway Community Service Board. The U.S. Department of Justice (n.d.) has recognized this program for its multi-agency cooperation and multi-modal rehabilitation effort. These federal, state, and local agencies work together to identify and supervise the 100 most at-risk juvenile offenders and offer intense rehabilitative programming such as substance abuse treatment, individual and family counseling, mental health treatment, educational programs, anger management, and job training and placement. Juveniles considered most at risk include those with a history of substance abuse, ineffective supervision, poor education, and lack of job skills. The mission of SIP is to reduce recidivism and therefore crime. The belief is that only with implementation of research-based programs to reduce delinquent and criminal behaviors by targeting high-risk factors while implementing correctional best practices. The current assessment method is identifying high risk offenders and offender needs (Georgia Department of Corrections, n.d.).
Roush and Miesner (2005) established the Jurisdictional Planning Assistance (JPA) as a reform effort to solving juvenile justice issues. From these studies, “best practices” in evaluating juvenile justice programs has been found. For example, an administrator of a juvenile justice program such as SIP should assess the program for the following elements: collaboration with other agencies for multimodal assistance to the juvenile, involvement of the juvenile court for guidance, create a mission statement to direct the decision-making and planning, establish a method of data collection to monitor progress, and cultivate relationship with local stake-holders such as businesses for additional funding. Howell (2003) advocates similar measures of success. Namely, Howell (2003) supports the inclusion of juvenile court authority in order to maintain cooperation of problem parents. Howell, though, adds the important component of a graduated sanction system that monitors for high risk factors such as chronic family dysfunction, significant school infractions, and delinquent conduct. When minor offenses are detected, sanctions beginning with letters to parents through institutionalization of the youth can be implemented. Howell (2003) claims large reductions in recidivism when such programs are instituted.
SIP is multimodal due to the fact that it incorporates numerous outside agencies to address the various personal and social problems afflicting the juvenile. SIP has implemented a mission statement and directs the program accordingly. It is not apparent that a clear data collection has been instituted but an assessment plan targeting high risk offenders is in place. The community is also involved. Local businesses are invited to assist in the design and implementation of the educational curriculum and job training programs. The program has been recognized, in part, as an effective program as a juvenile outreach program (Lipscomb, 2004). In 2004, while 80 juvenile offenders were supervised, only 4 were sent back to youth detention centers. Ultimately, SIP is a very promising program for juvenile delinquency intervention. However, a prevention program is lacking in Savannah that could have helped these two youths from engaging in the serious anti-social conduct.
Successful Interventions and Prevention Programs
Howell (2003) explains that the punitive programs and policies are ineffective due to the fact that they break the bonds these youths could otherwise build with parents, teachers, and others. For example, the zero tolerance policies provide for swift and severe punishments for every violation thereby causing youths to perceive authorities as out to get them. The unfortunate result of this style of accountability is the ultimate contribution to further delinquency on the part of these juveniles. It is also known that youths with conduct disorder are resistant to treatment (Becker, Hogue, and Liddle, 2002). However, Becker, et al. (2002) have found success in multidimensional family prevention (MDFP) programs. The goal of MDFP is to develop appropriate, interdependent attachment bonds between the adolescent and his family as well as ensuring the juvenile has deep connections with prosocial institutions. A reason this family prevention method is successful as compared to other family skills training programs is that the MDFP first identifies the specific risks presented in each family and tailors a prevention plan accordingly. The MDFP then assesses the interaction the youth has with its larger social world and the level of involvement of the parents in their child’s social world. The counseling of MDFP concentrates on the strengths of each family and develops adaptive functioning to address the problems areas.
Hogue, Liddle, Becker, & Johnson-Leckrone (2002) found that the MDFP approach was successful in preventing juvenile use of drugs and problem behaviors. The youths who participated in this prevention program reported a greater self-esteem and self-worth, family cohesion, and attachments to school. This program is successful due to the intensive prevention methodology by addressing not only the family environment but also the broader social institutions the youths are in contact with on a daily basis.
Building on the multidimensional family prevention programs, Svanberg (1998) explains the importance of family interactions, especially between mother and child, as the child grows and develops. The most important aspect in prevention and early intervention programs is the focus on healthy attachment. The attachment Svanberg (1998) refers to is the child’s feeling of distress developing from any number of circumstances to feelings of safety and security. The attachments youths develop over time result from interaction with parents and other caregivers. Prevention and intervention studies find that risk for conduct disorder can be reduced with home visitations, parent training, and psychological therapy for both child and parent. For example, Brazelton, O’Brien, and Brandt (1997) reported success reducing child conduct problems with relationship-building programs. One such prevention program is called Steps Toward Effective, Enjoyable Parenting (the STEEP program) which integrates home visitations with parent training. In particular, developing a more loving, emotional, interactive relationship between mother and child is key to developing the attachment needed to avoid the otherwise compulsive behavior patterns children elicit with insecure attachments.
Svanberg (1998) believes that early identification of high-risk life situations, support visits for new parents, school-based interventions, and parent training programs will build psychological resilience, self-esteem, and social strength in children at risk for conduct disorder. Svanberg (1998) is confident that a proactive, multimodal, and “ecological” prevention plan is most successful. Research demonstrates that it is the early development of interaction between parent and child that are indicative of attachment levels and will guide the child’s behaviors into their adolescent and adult lives.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Parental control is critical to reduce delinquency in the high-risk neighborhoods of Savannah, Georgia. Parental involvement in the lives of their children can reduce the influence of environmental pressures by restricting children to in-home activities, chaperoning children in the neighborhood, and perhaps even sending their children to live in safer neighborhoods (Simons, et al., 2004). The act of robbing the bank at gun point is only a symptom of the underlying conduct disorder suffered by these youths. The state cannot bear the whole burden of juvenile delinquency prevention. If intervention and prevention programs are instituted to identify and treat youths for the lack of close bonds with important figures in their lives, delinquency can be reduced and all of society will benefit. But the family dynamic must be addressed in relationship with the youth’s social world and the prevention program of choice must change and adapt with the juvenile.
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