Childhood and adolescence

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INTRODUCTION

This essay's primary aim is to examine the importance of understanding risk and protective factors in childhood and adolescence with regards to one's future development. In particular, there will be discussion surrounding the James Whakaruru case and what could have been done to prevent his death, what factors are contributing to the growing number of troubled teens engaging in risk taking behaviour and what can be done to curb this growing trend, and, finally, what are some prevention and intervention strategies which can be used in the family and school environment.

SECTION 2

In recent times there have been a number of extreme child abuse cases in New Zealand which has resulted in the nation being ranked the third worst in the O.E.C.D for abuse against children (Pinheiro, 2006).

A particularly extreme instance of child abuse was the case involving James Whakaruru (Haines, 2000; Masters, 2003). A number of factors which are commonly associated with an increased risk of child abuse were present in this case. These factors are often grouped according to the following categories "" parent factors, family factors, child factors, and environmental factors (Pogge, 2005). Parent factors are particular characteristics that can increase a parent's inclination to abuse their children (Cappelleri, Eckenrode & Powers, 1993). The circumstances in this case that fall under this category include the fact that James's primary caregiver, Te Rangi Whakaruru, was mentally unwell as she tried to commit suicide just ten days before James was born, the fact that Te Rangi Whakaruru was a teen parent who most likely had limited knowledge about correct child rearing approaches, the fact that Te Rangi Whakaruru was fairly isolated from society, and the possibility that, due to James's wider whanau being well known to Child, Youth and Family, Te Rangi Whakaruru was abused as a child which is relevant because research suggests that about one-third of all individuals who are maltreated as children will subject their children to maltreatment (Haines, 2000; Masters, 2003; Becker, Alpert, BigFoot & Bonner, 1999). Family factors are specific life situations which can contribute to the likelihood of maltreatment (Cappelleri, Eckenrode & Powers, 1993). The circumstances in this case that fall under this category include the fact that Te Rangi Whakaruru was a single parent, the fact that James was in a violent home as he witnessed Te Rangi Whakaruru being stuck by Haerewa on more than one occasion, and the fact that Te Rangi Whakaruru experienced quite a lot of stress due to her financial position and relationship with Haerewa (Haines, 2000; Masters, 2003). Child factors are particular characteristics that can increase a child's vulnerability to maltreatment (Cappelleri, Eckenrode & Powers, 1993). The circumstance in this case that falls under this category is the fact that James was a very young child and research has shown that maltreatment is highest for children between birth and 4 years of age due to their small physical size and early developmental status (Haines, 2000; Masters, 2003; Becker, Alpert, BigFoot & Bonner, 1999). Environmental factors are community characteristics which may enhance the risk of child abuse (Cappelleri, Eckenrode & Powers, 1993). The circumstance in this case that falls under this category is the fact that James and his mother were relatively poor and lived in a dangerous neighbourhood which has been shown to increase the likelihood of maltreatment (Haines, 2000; Masters, 2003; Becker, Alpert, BigFoot & Bonner, 1999).

Despite these factors which ultimately contributed to James Whakaruru's death there could have been certain protective factors put in place within the family context that could have prevented the abuse and provided an optimal environment for James's wellbeing (Haines, 2000; Masters, 2003). There are three specific protective factors that, if combined, would have fulfilled this purpose and they will be addressed in turn.

irstly, and most importantly, parents who fully understand normal child development and correct child rearing approaches are less likely to be abusive (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995; Piekarska, 2000). That is because such parents realise that certain child behaviour, such as biting or exhaustive crying, is in fact relatively normal and they will have practical information that they can use to better manage their child day-to-day, which will usually lead to them becoming less frustrated with their child and more confident with their parenting skills (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995). The best way to provide parents with this information is through parental education classes (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995). In these classes,-parents of at-risk children, such as Te Rangi Whakaruru, can interact with program staff and be coached on specific issues which concern them (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995). Also, an observation space is usually set up in which parents can observe their child interacting with others and learn new techniques from watching (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995). Although Te Rangi Whakaruru was seemingly unconcerned about James's wellbeing, this environment has been shown to ignite a supine parent's interest in their child and it would have provided a sound basis on which Child, Youth and Family could have assessed the appropriateness of James staying with Te Rangi Whakaruru (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995; Becker, Alpert, BigFoot & Bonner, 1999). This would have contributed to an optimal environment for James because effective parenting has been shown to foster psychological adjustment, encourage curiosity about the world, and provide motivation to succeed (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995; Piekarska, 2000; Becker, Alpert, BigFoot & Bonner, 1999).

Secondly, parents who are emotionally resilient are less likely to be abusive (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995; Piekarska, 2000). That is because research has shown that parental psychology plays a significant role in the causes of child abuse, and parents who are emotionally resilient are able to maintain a positive attitude, creatively solve problems, and effectively rise to challenges in their lives (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995; Becker, Alpert, BigFoot & Bonner, 1999). The best way to facilitate this emotional state is to have dedicated family support and mental health workers whose job it is to build a trusting relationship with the parent and be available whenever the parent needs them (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995). This is important because parents who know and trust staff are more likely to reveal problems, such as domestic violence or feelings of frustration, and ask for assistance (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995). This could have been extremely valuable in this case as if Te Rangi Whakaruru knew a family support or mental health worker who she trusted she might have revealed the abuse that her boyfriend was inflicting on James and that intervention was therefore necessary (Haines, 2000; Masters, 2003). This would have contributed to an optimal environment for James because Te Rangi Whakaruru's positive attitude would have rubbed off on James and she would have been better placed to cope effectively with the typical day-to-day stresses of raising James (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995).

Thirdly, parents who have strong social connections are less likely to be abusive (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995; Piekarska, 2000). That is because parents with a social network of emotionally supportive friends often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves due to the emotional and tangible support that they provide (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995). Such a network also reduces isolation, which is a consistent risk factor in child abuse cases, and reinforces community norms about violence (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995). The best way to assist a parent to create social connections is to provide them with all the information they need about various organisations and clubs such as the local church or community centre (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995). This would have contributed to an optimal environment for James because Te Rangi Whakaruru would have improved her communication skills and become more confident which would have allowed her to better facilitate James's developmental process (Pogge, 2005; Rushton, 1995).

SECTION 3

Many youth in today's society engage in risk taking behaviour and this is contributing to the climbing numbers of out of control young people (Randall, 2005). Although there are seemingly impenetrable reasons which explain why youth engage in this manner there are in fact mediating factors which can reduce young people's desire to engage in risk taking behaviour (). Furthermore, there are certain skills that human services professionals can adopt when interacting with young people which will assist them in persuading young people to behave in a more socially accepted manner (Thompson, 2009).

There are four key factors which help explain why so many youth engage in risk taking behaviour. Firstly, adolescents often have exaggerated beliefs about their own indestructibility and thus are less likely to fully comprehend the possible consequences of their actions (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). This is supported by the fact that the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for such things as impulse control and anticipating the likely consequences of one's actions, is not fully matured in adolescents (Jessor & Jessor, 1977). Secondly, adolescents have a unique thirst for new and exciting experiences and thus are more willing to experiment with new activities in order to test their limits even if society generally views the activity as dangerous (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). Related to this proposition is the theory that many adolescents want to express opposition to adult authority and conventional society and one way of doing that is to engage in behaviour which is generally considered irregular and dangerous by society (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). Thirdly, being socially accepted is much more important to adolescents than it is to adults and thus adolescents are more willing to engage in certain conduct in order to gain admission to peer groups and demonstrate identification with a specific culture such as boy racing (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). Fourthly, many youth that engage in risk taking behaviour are lacking appropriate positive reinforcement in their home and at school and thus fail to fully comprehend how to consistently act in a socially acceptable manner and the benefits of doing so (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987).

There are three main mediating factors which can limit a young person's propensity to engage in risk taking behaviour. In order for any of them to be effective, however, there needs to be a clear focus on the needs of the specific individual (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). Firstly, the inclusion of support people in young people's lives has been shown to have a positive effect on their behaviour (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). These support people have the job of building a trusting relationship with the young person and demonstrating, through their actions, how one can consistently act in a socially acceptable manner in a multitude of situations (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). By doing this the young person will likely comprehend the value of acting in a socially acceptable manner and consider that it is unnecessary to engage in risk taking behaviour in order to express opposition to conventional society or to feel accepted by one's peers (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). This relationship will also help the young person to realise the negative consequences of continuing to behave in an anti-social manner (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). Secondly, providing young people with skills that they can use to effectively manage their behaviour and the opportunity to engage in developmental activities is vital in order to stem their risk taking behaviour (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). This factor can either be facilitated by support people or by an organisation, such as YouthWorx, that deals with troubled youth (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). The types of skills which are useful in altering a young person's behaviour include impulse control (ie teaching the young person to stop and think before acting and to think of the consequences before acting), social skills such as assertiveness and seeing things from others' points of view, self management skills such as being on time and assertive communication, and problem solving techniques (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). The types of developmental activities which are also useful in this aim include volunteer work in the community and employment (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). These skills and developmental activities have been shown to increase self-esteem and self-confidence, reduce impulsivity, and improve educational and employment prospects, and as a result reduce a young person's propensity to consistently engage in risk taking behaviour (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). However, they must be provided over the medium- to long-term in order to have a real impact (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). Thirdly, it is important that young people have a supportive home and school environment in order for their attitudes towards risk taking behaviour to change. (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987) This environment can be made up by motivating the young person to take part in interventions and change by providing incentives, using praise and encouragement, and demonstrating the positive consequences of change (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987). A supportive social climate is often not enough in of itself but it is an important element in any attempt to change a young person's behaviour (Alexander, Young, Ensminger, Johnson, Smith & Dolan, 1990; Blyth, Hill & Thiel, 1982; Jessor & Jessor, 1977; Tonkins, 1987).

The five most valuable skills that can assist human services professionals in their interactions with troubled young people will now be addressed. Firstly, learning the skill of self-awareness would assist a human service professional in this field (Thompson, 2009). Being self-aware primarily involves understanding one's own characteristic responses to situations so that one can build on one's positive qualities and be wary of any negative ones that may get in the way of effective practice (Thompson, 2009). This is a useful skill to learn because one's own self or personality is often used as a means by which positive change can be facilitated and by being self-aware one is more likely to be confident in one's own abilities and thus more capable of inspiring confidence and giving the impression that one's advice is reliable and worth following (Thompson, 2009). Secondly, becoming more influential is another skill that would assist a human service professional in this field (Thompson, 2009). This is obviously a very useful skill to learn because any human service professional working with a troubled young person will be seeking to persuade them to change their behaviour and thus learning how to be more influential will greatly assist them in that undertaking (Thompson, 2009). Thirdly, learning how to handle feelings more effectively is another skill that would assist a human service professional in this field (Thompson, 2009). Knowing how to handle feelings is important because feelings can colour one's perception and shape one's actions (Thompson, 2009). In particular, they can motivate someone to make decisions rashly and demotivate someone from achieving their goals (Thompson, 2009). Thus, by controlling one's own feelings one will be better equipped to persuade a troubled youth to alter their behaviour. Fourthly, anti-discriminatory practice is an important skill that any human service professional in this field should learn (Thompson, 2009). That is because if one is not sensitive to issues of discrimination then one runs the risk of condoning, reinforcing or even amplifying the oppression to which such discrimination leads and thereby significantly reducing the chance of any advice getting through to the person that needs help (Thompson, 2009). Fifthly, learning how to handle conflict more effectively is another skill that would assist a human service professional in this field (Thompson, 2009). That is because one will be more confident in dealing with confrontational situations and will be less likely to allow aggressive responses to undermine one's goals (Thompson, 2009).

SECTION 4

Prevention strategies are those which attempt to reduce the incidence of a problem among a population before it actually occurs (Hay & Jones, 1995). In order to illustrate this-there will now be a discussion of two preventative strategies which are applicable in a family and school setting respectively.

An example of a preventative strategy that is applicable in a family setting is Rushton's two-tier child abuse prevention strategy (Rushton, 1995). This strategy identifies two methods which it suggests can be used to effectively prevent child abuse (Rushton, 1995). The first is school-based awareness and skill development (Rushton, 1995). This involves a collaborative effort by schools and communities to teach violence awareness, alternative conflict-resolution skills, and forming healthy intimate relationships to those families that have been identified as high-risk (Rushton, 1995). The second is public education (Rushton, 1995). This involves media campaigns promoting awareness of domestic violence and providing information about local resources and how to respond to domestic violence situations (Rushton, 1995). This is obviously a very important strategy because the negative effects of child abuse can be devastating to a child's developmental process and to the community involved (Rushton, 1995). Accordingly, any strategy which identifies ways of preventing child abuse is extremely beneficial to society.

An example of a preventative strategy that is applicable in a school setting is Carnahan's dropout prevention strategy (Carnahan, 1994). This strategy discusses how to prevent young people from underachieving and dropping out of school (Carnahan, 1994). It identifies four categories of factors that can assist in identifying students which are most at risk of educational underachievement and dropping out of school (Carnahan, 1994). These are demographic, family, the individual student, and the school (Carnahan, 1994). The types of factors that come within these categories include belonging to a minority culture, solo parent, truancy, and alienation from school life (Carnahan, 1994). By identifying those who are most at risk of underachievement or dropping out the child's parent(s) and school can then work together to develop a specific program that will try to ensure that the child performs to the best of his ability at school and recognises the importance of gaining an education (Carnahan, 1994). This is a particularly important strategy because research has shown that those who fail at school are much more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour in adulthood (Carnahan, 1994). Thus, by helping to prevent children from failing at school this strategy is not only benefiting the child themselves through providing them with a better opportunity to fulfil their ambitions but also society generally by increasing the likelihood of the child being a law-abiding citizen who also contributes to society (Carnahan, 1994).

Intervention strategies are those which attempt to effectively resolve an existing problem within an individual's immediate environment in a way that will prevent the reoccurrence of a similar problem (Hay & Jones, 1995). In order to illustrate this-there will now be a discussion of two intervention strategies which are applicable in a family and school setting respectively.

An example of an intervention strategy that is applicable in a family setting is Orbach's suicidal intervention strategy (Orbach, 2001). The foundational principle of this strategy is one of extreme empathy on the verge of total identification (Orbach, 2001). That is, Orbach argues that it is necessary for anyone attempting to dissuade a suicidal person to try to understand how the conditions, circumstances, and internal experiences of the suicidal person led them to feel that there was no way out and that the only possible reaction was despair (Orbach, 2001). In doing that Orbach postulates that one will be better placed to penetrate the suicidal person's mindset and ultimately persuade them that there are avenues which they can take that will placate their negative feelings and lead them down a path worth taking (Orbach, 2001). A specific tactic that Orbach suggests one should use is asking the suicidal person to actually convince them that suicide is the only solution left (Orbach, 2001). Once the person is talked out of committing suicide Orbach argues that it is critical that their family and trained support staff assist them to get back on track (Orbach, 2001). This is clearly a very important strategy because there is no comeback from suicide and the grief that a person's suicide can inflict can devastate numerous other people's lives (Orbach, 2001).

An example of an intervention strategy that is applicable in a school setting is The Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System of the Family Court's bullying intervention strategy (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). This strategy identifies six steps which it suggests should be undertaken when intervening in a school environment involving bullying (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). The first step it suggests is that head authority figures at the school immediately separate the victim and those who have been bullying them (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). The second step is to talk to the parties at separate meetings (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). At the meeting with the bullies the authority figures should remind the bully about school and classroom rules, reiterate what behaviour is expected of them, and discuss sanctions that will be imposed for future bullying behaviour (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). At the meeting with the victim the authority figures should reassure them that everything possible will be done to prevent a recurrence and encourage them not to be depressed about attending school (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). The third step is to phone the parents of all the parties involved and discuss the circumstances surrounding the bullying and what is being done to ensure that there is no reoccurrence (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). The fourth step is for the school to make all the other students aware of the consequences of bullying and reiterate the school's policy of zero tolerance towards bullying (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). The fifth step is for the school to continue to monitor the behaviour of the bullies and the wellbeing of the victim (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). The sixth step is for the school to alert all the staff of the circumstances surrounding the bullying so that they can gain a better understanding of it (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). Finally, it is suggested that if the behaviour does not change that the bullies be removed from the school for a period of time (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). This is a particularly important strategy because bullying has been shown to have an extremely negative impact on a child's learning capacity (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). That is, bullying not only poisons the educational environment for the child but also often causes the victim to become disinterested in school and more likely to engage in antisocial behaviour (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). Furthermore, bullying has been shown to be a common thread among children who have attempted or successfully committed suicide (Whitman & Borkowski, 2001). Thus, it is clear that bullying can have a very negative impact on a child and so any strategy that can help limit the negative impact of bullying is tremendously beneficial to society.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, it is clear that the negative effects of child abuse and adolescent risk taking behaviour can be counteracted by certain factors and strategies. However, in order for these factors and strategies to be implemented it is crucial that those who are responsible for the child's or adolescent's wellbeing are educated about them and as a result can take the appropriate steps when necessary. This is very important because the negative effects of child abuse and adolescent risk taking can have a devastating impact on a young person's future.

References

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Beals, F. (2000). Youth-at-risk: Definition, identification, prevention and intervention. Victoria University of Wellington, School of Education.

Becker, J. V., Alpert, J. L., BigFoot, D. S. & Bonner B. L. (1999) Empirical research on child abuse treatment. Child Psychology: Prevention, 24, 35-50.

Blyth, D. A., Hill, J. P., & Thiel, K. S. (1982). Early adolescents' significant others: Grade and gender differences in perceived relationships with familial and non-familial adults and young people. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 11, 425-450.

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