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  1. Youth Topics
  2. Juvenile Justice
  3. Prevention and Early Intervention

Prevention and Early Intervention

Typically, juvenile delinquency follows a trajectory similar to that of normal adolescent development. In other words, children and youth tend to follow a path toward delinquent and criminal behavior rather than engaging randomly.1Research has shown that there are two types of delinquents,

  • those in whom the onset of severe antisocial behavior begins in early childhood, and
  • those in whom this onset coincides with entry into adolescence.2

In either case, these developmental paths give families, communities, and systems the opportunity to intervene and prevent the onset of antisocial behaviors and justice system involvement.

Early Intervention

In light of the growing body of research, we now know that the better and more cost-effective place to stop the “cradle to prison pipeline” is as close to the beginning of that pipeline as possible. Early intervention prevents the onset of delinquent behavior and supports the development of a youth’s assets and resilience.3 While many past approaches focus on remediating visible and/or longstanding disruptive behavior, research has shown that prevention and early intervention are more effective. 4

In addition to societal and personal benefits, research has demonstrated that delinquency prevention programs are a good financial investment. For example, a 2001 Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) study found that the total benefits of effective prevention programs were greater than their costs. More recent research by WSIPP found that sound delinquency-prevention programs can save taxpayers seven to ten dollars for every dollar invested, primarily due to reductions in the amount spent on incarceration.

In essence, intervening early “not only saves young lives from being wasted,” but also prevents the onset of adult criminal careers and reduces the likelihood of youth becoming serious and violent offenders. This in turn reduces the burden of crime on society, and saves taxpayers billions of dollars.5

The Interagency Working Group for Youth Programs defines positive youth development as “an intentional, pro-social approach that engages youth within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and families in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognizes, utilizes, and enhances youths' strengths; and promotes positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths.”

Positive Youth Development

Several researchers have promoted a positive youth development model to address the needs of youth who might be at risk of entering the juvenile justice system.

One positive youth development model addresses the six life domains of work, education, relationships, community, health, and creativity. The two key assets needed by all youth are (1) learning/doing and (2) attaching/belonging. When the necessary supports and services are provided to assist youth in the six life domains, it is expected that positive outcomes will result.6

What are Effective Programs?

Under this prevention and early intervention framework, an increasing body of research is being conducted to determine which of the many existing programs are truly effective. Current literature indicates that effective programs are those that aim to act as early as possible and focus on known risk factors and the behavioral development of juveniles.7 In general, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recommends that the following types of school and community prevention programs be employed:

  • Classroom and behavior management programs
  • Multi-component classroom-based programs
  • Social competence promotion curriculums
  • Conflict resolution and violence prevention curriculums
  • Bullying prevention programs
  • Afterschool recreation programs
  • Mentoring programs
  • School organization programs
  • Comprehensive community interventions

The youth.gov program directory provides up-to-date information for effective programs that address risk and protective factors related to juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. All programs included in the program directory have been rigorously reviewed based on their conceptual framework, whether or not the program was implemented as intended, how it was evaluated, and the findings of the evaluations. Programs found to be effective are classified on a three-tier continuum:

  • Level 1: In general, when implemented with a high degree of fidelity (effectiveness), these programs demonstrate robust empirical findings, using a reputable conceptual framework and an evaluation design of the highest quality.
  • Level 2: In general, when implemented with sufficient fidelity, these programs demonstrate adequate empirical findings, using a sound conceptual framework and an evaluation design of high quality (quasi-experimental).
  • Level 3: In general, when implemented with minimal fidelity, these programs demonstrate promising (yet perhaps inconsistent) empirical findings, using a reasonable conceptual framework and a limited evaluation design (single group pre-test) that requires confirmation of causality using more appropriate experimental techniques.

The directory also includes youth-focused programs from SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP), another online registry of mental health and substance abuse interventions.

References

1 Kendziora & Osher, 2004
2 Silverthorn & Frick, 1999
3 Osher, Quinn, Poirier, & Rutherford, 2003
4 Loeber, Farrington, & Petechuk, 2003
5 Greenwood, 2008, p. 186
6 Butts, Bazemore, & Meroe, 2010
7 Loeber, Farrington, & Petechuk, 2003

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Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

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Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

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Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

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