Helping At-Risk Youth: Preventing Juvenile Delinquency
A child’s behavior can be indicative of who they will become as an adult, so it's only natural to worry about your child's development. Are they social enough? Are they paying attention in class? How do they interact with their peers? It's difficult to tell how a person's childhood and adolescence will affect their future.
If your adolescent is engaging in juvenile criminal behavior, you may be concerned about stopping this before he/she becomes an adult. Child criminal behavior can be a predictor for adult criminal behavior, so finding a way to address this behavior is very important.
There is a variety of risk factors for juvenile delinquency. If your child is engaging in criminal behavior, it can be alarming. If your child is being labeled a "juvenile delinquent," what can you do about it?
What Is a Juvenile Delinquent?
One mistaken belief is that anyone under the age of 18 who breaks the law is a "juvenile delinquent," and will continue to make poor decisions into adulthood. Breaking the law or local ordinance is actually not uncommon among young people. An underdeveloped frontal lobe causes teens, especially, to be impulsive and make decisions. This doesn’t automatically mean that they will continue to make these types of decisions for the rest of their lives.
When a "troublemaker" crosses the line into being a juvenile delinquent, this young person needs guidance and structure to prevent this type of behavior from continuing into adulthood. The “juvenile delinquent” label implies that a juvenile’s destructive and antisocial behavior is out of the control of parents, teachers, grown ups, and authorities.
If your child makes one or two mistakes or bad decisions at school, it’s one thing. But if this pattern of behavior becomes a habit it may be time to consider intervention.
The Impacts of Juvenile Delinquency
Some juvenile crimes can be expunged, or sealed from view in the future, but there are a few issues with this. First, in many states, certain crimes can never be wiped from a juvenile’s record. Further, a juvenile must be eligible for an expungement for it to be granted. If the juvenile has repeatedly been adjudicated delinquent in the court system, that juvenile may not be eligible for an expungement. Various branches of the military can almost certainly find out about juvenile delinquency court actions, even with an expungement.
Even when an offense is eligible to be cleaned (expunged) from a juvenile offender’s record, it can still cause issues while it is pending and possibly even after it is expunged. For example, a juvenile record could affect potential academic options, joining the military, as well as employment possibilities.
Causes of Juvenile Delinquency
While no one thing "causes" someone to become an out-of-control youth, there are a few likely factors.
No one can say for sure what causes individual adolescents to commit crimes, but there are some behaviors that can be considered "risk factors" for juvenile delinquency. These risk factors make it easier to predict juvenile delinquency.
For example, children from a broken home or more likely than those with a stable family. Domestic violence is a factor in most cases, but a lack of stability, substance abuse or excess chaos at home may be predictive of juvenile delinquency.
People with early substance use have a higher tendency to become juvenile delinquents. Even gender is considered a risk factor: male children and teens are more likely to act out. There are many factors across several categories, which can be found here. It should be noted, however, that just because your child fits into these categories doesn't mean his or her future is a foregone conclusion.
Problems with the Juvenile Criminal Justice System
Much like the adult justice system, time spent in custody (jail) as a youth can lead juveniles to become repeat offenders.
Often when a juvenile enters the legal system, they are unfairly labeled as juvenile delinquents and that label makes them likely to end up back in jail, for a variety of reasons:
A major one is that a child may wind up incarcerated at a Juvenile Detention Facility, and either be abused by officials in the facility or learn negative behavior from other youths. The juvenile may learn violent criminal behaviors from other delinquents in the detention facility. The juvenile may join a gang while incarcerated in a juvenile facility. The juvenile may make friends at the facility and keep in touch with them after being released. These individuals may not be positive role models.
Punishment for Juvenile Crimes
The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Program (JJDP) was established as a federal law to try to standardize the treatment of juveniles in state laws across the country.
In SC, every juvenile who goes to court is required to have an attorney present with him or her. Here's a guide to help you know what to do if your child is accused of a crime or taken into custody in a variety of situations.
What Can We Do?
The first step, when your child or other young loved one gets in any type of legal trouble, is to find an experienced juvenile criminal defense lawyer to represent your child. You will want to find an attorney with experience dealing with minors in the court system. It will be helpful to find an attorney that has experience litigating juvenile cases in the county/ jurisdiction where your child has pending charges.
Resources for At-Risk Youth
Youth exhibiting risky behaviors are an especially delicate demographic because juvenile delinquents can very easily become lifetime offenders. Here is a list of resources:
The Administration for Families and Children:
An extension of the US Department of Health and Human Services, the AFC provides welfare programs for children and families in need.
National Runaway Safeline:
The Safeline is a resource for children who, for any reason, have run away or are considering it, positioning themselves as a non-judgmental source.
Office of Juvenile Delinquency Justice and Prevention:
The OJJDP gives parents the facts about why it's so important to get help if they can't control their children.
The U.S. Department of Labor - Youth Programs:
This is a program designed to connect young people, especially those exhibiting risky behaviors, to jobs and career training.
The South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice:
The DJJ is a state-run agency that coordinates the treatment and rehabilitation of South Carolina’s juveniles who are on probation, parole, or incarcerated. They strive to protect the general public while focusing on the juvenile reentering society.
Are Your Kids at Risk?
Whether this information applies to you or someone you know, it's always a good idea to understand and recognize the warning signs of juvenile delinquency. Do you or someone you know need an experienced juvenile criminal defense attorney? Contact Attorney Susan E. Williams to discuss your case.
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