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Juvenile Justice-involved youth are born into a negative and damaging environment. The damage may have begun even before they were born. The effects of this failure will impact society and those close to them. The research being done now is geared to try to understand these maltreated youth and the best ways to intervene into their young lives and to help them become productive citizens.
The Bridge over troubled waters
The Trigger Point
The connections between a child and their environment explain the maladaptive outcomes and their pathways. For children to develop normally, their environment needs to provide certain things. "Safe communities, access to health care, supportive relationships with an adult and consistent access to education"  are some of those necessary things. One common thread in maltreated children is that their environment failed to provide most of those important and necessary things. The impact of this failure is negative and has short and long term effects. The "family, community and broader societal factors"  have an influence on their human development and the interplay of the child's development and their environment are outlined in two developmental theories which outline the levels and layers of their life.
Why do they end up being incarcerated?
The Bio-ecological Systems Theory
Professor Urie Bronfenbrenner was a child psychologist who developed the bio-ecological systems theory. The ontogenetic-biological component which defined by the free dictionary means "the origin and development of an individual from embryo to adult  formulated much of his research on children. "The theory was based on the concept that there is a normal range for human development within an average and predictable environment"  and it can be compared to the arrangement of the Russian nesting dolls. The smallest and inner most level would be the person. The next level would be the family and the outer level would be the values of society. Each level interacts and influences the other in some way. The role of genetics, pre-natal experiences, along with the family, social, and cultural environments were significant in the interactions of the child and the family. Bronfenbrenner's model or systems include the micro systems and they are defined as, "the immediate settings in which individuals developâ€¦from factors that were both within and external to the system"  . The family and the school are examples of the micro system. The meso system measures the effectiveness of the relationship between the home and a child care center, for example, and their interactions. Exo systems impact the child but the child has no direct role and an example would be the parent's job. Another example would be "public policy that funds early intervention programs"  . The macro system is the societal blueprint and it forms and shapes the beliefs people have about how to behave in society and the organizations in religion. There are several pathways to adaptive and maladaptive outcomes which can be explained by two categories and they are potentiating and compensatory. Delinquency, educational problems, and mental health issues are some of the problems that plague these children. The potential of more serious consequences are the effects on society which can have a lasting impact. The total cost of child maltreatment reported by the 'Prevent child abuse of America organization' in 2001 said "that the estimated combined direct and indirect cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States totaled $258 million per day"  . The link to societal problems became recognized by policy makers and led to developing and implementing several policies and systemic programs. Several agencies have tried to serve and treat the complex problems that occur for these children and they are "child welfare laws and agencies, special education laws and programs, juvenile justice departments and community mental health agencies"  . There is no one particular agency that can address all of the challenges and so they are served by multiple systems.
2. The Ecological-Transactional Theory
This theory is helpful for understanding "multijurisdictional youth"  and provides the structure to form interventions at the levels of impact on the child. "The stronger and more diverse these interventions the greater the opportunity will be for growth"  . The term maltreatment is defined as "physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and or emotional maltreatment of a youth of any age occurring singularly or in various combinations"  . The transactional model can only deal with "those proximal environments in which the person directly participates"  . This model is important for prevention and it "expands our focus to include the ways in which person-setting interactions are impacted by relationships between settings"  . In the book 'The Counselor's Companion' Gregoire wrote, "When basic needs are thwarted or deprived within a person's interpersonal world, ill-being results"  . Children who have been maltreated become juvenile justice-involved youth and their stories and their lives have many common factors.
Juvenile arrests are not in decline, "youth under the age of 15 are accountable for 27% of total juvenile arrest"  and 70 % of the total juvenile arrests in 2008 are adolescent males. Social workers who are employed to help them have discovered common factors "that contribute to their incarceration"  and because these juveniles are unique it is important to broaden the base of knowledge in order to develop an effective intervention. As these children reach puberty, the changes will cause them to increase in risk taking behaviors.
In order for the adolescents to self-regulate, their cognitive control system needs to develop. Cognitive control is the way people actively maintain information such as "goals, instructions, plans, or specific prior events for short periods of time"  and they guide and control their behavior with this information. A person's consciousness, agency, and will are central to their cognitive control. Many neuropsychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia are caused due to a loss of cognitive control. The socio-emotional process consists of variations that occur in an individual's personality, emotions and relationships with others during a lifetime. The socio-emotional development influences all other areas of development.
Understanding the characteristics of maltreated youth and understanding their common factors and their risk factors can help those who work with them to develop preventative measures in their communities, in order "to help them move toward a productive adulthood"  . Conduct disorder, post traumatic disorder, and bipolar are some of the disorders in common with juvenile justice-involved youth and some of them have more than one disorder to deal with. "The research found that incarcerated juveniles who met with the criteria for conduct disorder with or without bipolar I or II experienced a wide range of neuropsychological deficits"  . Some of the common factors are a family history of domestic violence and substance abuse. They were exposed to violence and they were prone to "coping with stress by attempting to control or provoke othersâ€¦and that increased their self-esteem"  . Popular male adolescents in gangs were found to drop out of high school and the research shows that "the adolescents who were in gangs and been held back in school or placed in a special learning environment were the ones classified as having difficulties"  . Those in gangs used alcohol and other drugs. Most of their difficulties arose due to the fact that they had "large family size, low parental education and illiteracy, poverty and a history of offending behaviors by family members"  .
Recognizing Mental Health Needs
The Prevalence of Psychiatric Disorders among Juvenile Justice-Involved Youth
The prevalence of psychiatric disorders among youth who are detained and incarcerated is reported to be at 69%. Fifteen studies were chosen and reviewed and the prevalent disorders included high rates of psychotic illness, major depression, ADHD, and conduct disorder. "Some studies in detained adolescents have identified racial and ethnic differences in the prevalence of mental disorders"  . There was a "broad range of psychiatric disorders among detained adolescentsâ€¦and prevalence rates may differ when impairment is taken into account along with race and ethnicity"  . The most prevalent age group was eighteen years old and younger. The studies included "3401 male adolescents from 10 different countries"  . The different races that were studied were African American, non-Hispanic White, and Hispanic. The race with the highest prevalence was the non-Hispanic White. The mental health needs of delinquent adolescents "have received little attention until now"  . Some of the studies suggest that parents are ashamed to report their child's problems because it may be due to their lack of parenting or lack of supervision. The studies about maltreated and juvenile justice-involved youth are still in the beginning stages. "Particular attention should be paid to the assessment of psychotic disorders by trained physicians"  .
Research in the assessment of psychopathic traits has garnered controversy and criticism, but many agree that the information is valuable for "early intervention and public safety"  as well as inform issues of assessing and managing multi-problem youth"  . Violent offending among female offenders is on the rise. "Female juvenile offenders have been found to exhibit greater health problems and more severe pathology than male offenders"  . They are more at risk for suicide and will have histories of trauma. They also can have more than one disorder. Psychopathy refers to "a severe personality disorder, characterized by a constellation of affective, interpersonal and behavioral deficits that include shallow emotions, lack of empathy or remorse, egocentricity, and impulsivity. It is associated with persistent violation of social norms and increased antisocial conduct and violence"  . Female adolescents manifested psychopathic traits more than males and they manifested as mental health issues and they were "hospitalized rather than criminalized"  . The manifestations are "poor anger control, early behavior problems, juvenile delinquency, revocation of conditional release, and criminal versatility"  . There is one important thing to understand about psychopathy and the mental health needs is that some interventions should be tailored to female adolescents.
The one consistent and major reason for juveniles entering the justice system is substance abuse. One intervention that has been used is drug and alcohol education, which is not effective with adolescents. "A parent who has or is currently using substances significantly increases the odds that an adolescent will engage in substance use"  . Genetic dispositions contribute to difficulties with substance abuse. Marijuana and alcohol use are the substances most commonly abused and used. Younger adolescents were more at risk to be influenced by the substance use of their peers. "Youth living in areas of high neighborhood disorder, including those with high rates of public substance use and violence, have been found to have compromised cognitive development and achievement"  . For the youth who have a "caring, involved and invested family member (or family unit) are most likely to have a better prognosis"  . A dual diagnosis occurs when the "individual meets the criteria for a substance use disorder (SUD); abuse or dependence, along with another co-occurring DSM-IV-TR"  . The substance use or abuse along with "conduct disorder or ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, to anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder"  are some of the most common dual diagnosis.
Attitudes of Crackdown
Today's society exploits innocence and vulnerability and the dominant attitude toward youth has had profound changes that reflect suspicion and fear by adults today. Fuentes wrote that one thing that has changed "is the prominence of guns and their role in violence"  . The building blocks of communities have changed also due to the fact that "one quarter of all households are people living alone"  and the elderly can find it easier to "demonize youth when their worlds don't coincide"  . "From 1986-1993:
Roughly the same period of the youth crime explosion, the number of abused and neglected children doubled to 2.8 million, according to the justice department, and just three years later, the total of all juvenile arrests were 2.8 million"  .
All 50 states today have passed laws making it easier to "prosecute juveniles in adult criminal court"  . In New York if a seven year old commits a certain felony they can be tried as an adult. The elimination of separating juveniles from the adults is one provision that they want to change. Schools are enforcing zero tolerance on "drugs, alcohol, and weapons, which mean ironclad punishments for any transgression"  . Some schools are stationing police and law enforcement in the schools to prevent and control guns and drugs from coming into the schools.
How do we decrease the prison population
The USA has the highest numbers of prisoners and Russia comes in at second place. They are researching "ways to decrease these numbers"  . The plan involves "legal, financial, political, social, cultural and many other factors"  . The one common denominator in any society is that violent behavior is recognized as criminal and those who commit violent crimes "commit them repeatedly"  . Career criminals interact early in their life with the judicial system. The contributions of genetics and environmental factors interact substantially and dynamically in the cause and origin of criminal behavior. The reasons for criminal behavior are mixed and still not understood very well. "The main assumption isâ€¦that juvenile criminal behavior is, generally speaking, a manifestation of the broken process of social learning (or faulty learning)  . Risky genes and risky environments "may trigger impulsive and aggressive behavior"  . As noted earlier a vast majority of juvenile offenders have more than one "developmental disorder"  . The research that is being conducted is looking at the risk factors, those things that have caused the criminal behavior which one link has been "associated with the derailed social learning that is thought to underlie criminal behavior in juveniles"  . Aggressive behavior or anti-social behavior can come from their genetic background and their environment. There is a common etiology of anti-social behavior. "The long and short of it is that there are many factors of various natures that can derail learning, none are deterministic, but all are probabilistic"  . The research showed "to decrease the numbers of individuals being detained is to negate the impact of these risk factors"  .
The Veterinary Preparation Program: An Alternative Education Program for youth in the Juvenile Justice System
The program provides the youth with "part-time work and job skills but also teaches the students' academic subjects like math and science"  . The group of students observed were "undereducated and disillusioned and young"  . Could an alternative education program like the Veterinary program engage theses students? This program prepared students to "take college level courses and become veterinary technicians"  . It was a "unique and ambitious program for vulnerable youth"  They were preparing the student's "to return to school or the work force and the educators provided a high level of academic tasks, problem solving skills, job training and other competitive skills"  . The program was developed to help "students go to school, learn useful job skills, have a paid job, and hopefully a better future"  . The academic part of the program concentrated on "math, science, reading and writing"  . The class would prepare them to "take the veterinary technician exam"  . Another curriculum that was added was "ethics, animal rights issues, current events, and job skills like interviewing, phone skills and professional behavior in the work place"  . Cats that are unadoptable are brought "in their current condition"  and the students work with them to get them healthy and adoptable. The students take care of them by giving them "food and water, cleaning their cages, socialize them, and write their observations"  . "It is not an exaggeration to say that the students were transformed while in this program"  . They were focused, engaged, and committed. The program did not receive the support it needed to continue but for the students that got to be in it, it was a huge success while in the program. Once they got back into their world, most of them returned to their old habits.
The Home Care Program
The home care program "began in 2003 to facilitate psychiatric care for youths (ages 11-16) in the juvenile justice system that was leaving detention centers"  . A grant was awarded to the "Department of Psychiatry at the University Of Connecticut School Of Medicine"  to use "the services within the federally qualified health centers in the state"  . It is the perfect illustration of agencies joining together, state agencies, a university and "community primary care clinics in underserved areas"  . The 'bridging service' model is a referral  service to a "longer term provider". The youth would be seen by an advanced practice nurse and a child psychiatrist. The APN and the child psychiatrist would "conduct evaluations and provide medication management services"  . The youth require "psychotropic medication as a condition of their release and return to the community"  . The strength of the program is that it is "culturally sensitive, and based on an APN nursing model that emphasizes a partnership with youngsters and their families seeking services"  . "The home care program offers a successful model of collaborative practices between state agencies, FQHC, and a public university"  .
Targeting Criminal recidivism in mentally ill offenders: Structured Clinical Approaches
Criminal recidivism requires "a more targeted criminal justice focus"  .The structures clinical interventions were "created and adapted to target the thoughts and behaviors associated with criminal justice contact"  . Decreasing criminal recidivism is among the "most consistently desired outcome by programs, policy makers, and funding agencies"  . The reason being the client is more stable and the public is safer, recurrent criminal behavior is associated with a variety of factors and interventions are targeting these factors for the "seriously mentally ill"  . Their "thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are targeted in the structured clinical interventions"  . The factors specifically associated with recurrent criminal behavior include substance abuse, education, and vocational opportunities, family support, and homelessness"  . Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has been an intervention successfully used to decrease "distressing feelings, disturbing behavior, and dysfunctional thoughts"  . The original goal was "feeling and functioning better"  but focus was drawn to "interpersonal skills and acceptance of community standards for responsible behavior"  . "Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy suits their learning style better"  . Some of the programs include "thinking for a change, which is a problem solving approach that teaches offenders to work through difficulties without resorting to criminal behavior"  . Moral Reconation Therapy, Lifestyle change, options, and reasoning and rehabilitation are all programs that "target cognitive processing associated with pro-criminal thinking"  . The feedback on "recidivism and focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is promising.
The damaging effects of child abuse not only effect the child but trickles out to the communities in which they live. The research being done is receiving promising feedback. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is among those promising programs and there are others. The Home care program refers youth to a long term care where they can continue to be treated for their mental illness. There is still much research that needs to be done but it can be done.