Reading Difficulty in Young Children Linked to Later Trouble With the Law

Since 2011, the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, supported by Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, has brought together a variety of stakeholders, including schools, early-childhood programs and the state department of education. The campaign also focuses on reducing chronic absenteeism by reaching out to frequently absent students early, rather than using negative ways to encourage attendance.
Since 2011, the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, supported by Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, has brought together a variety of stakeholders, including schools, early-childhood programs and the state department of education. The campaign also focuses on reducing chronic absenteeism by reaching out to frequently absent students early, rather than using negative ways to encourage attendance.

Every young life starts out with promise, and the adults who love a child yearn for that child to have a bright future.

But what if a simple barrier at an early age sets a child up for failure?

Difficulty in reading is such a barrier. Poor reading skill is a predictor of, among other things, involvement in the juvenile justice system.

“The literature shows a clear correlation between a grade-level reading problem and, later on, incarceration in the juvenile justice system,” said Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national collaboration of foundations, nonprofits, business leaders, and communities focusing on school success for children in low-income families.

Reading is so foundational, the Campaign has a nationwide effort to bring all kids to reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

Cities like Orlando have made literacy a cornerstone of their after-school and summer programs for kids. And a statewide campaign in Arkansas brings together school districts, teachers and volunteers to provide tutoring, mentoring and innovative summer literacy activities.

“There’s a very strong association between behavior problems and academic achievement,” said Deborah Stipek, former dean of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University.

Stick and Sara Miles collaborated on research published in 2006 that followed children from first through fifth grade.

“We found that in first grade, achievement in literacy and reading predicted later aggression,” said Miles, who is now research director for the nonprofit Challenge Success.

“Our theory was that kids who are struggling as readers …” develop frustration and a negative relation to school. “It sort of snowballs,” Miles said.

They get more off-track as they get older.

“It can lead to low self-esteem and an antagonistic relation with school,” she said.

Chuang Wang, professor of educational research at the University of North Carolina, also has researched the link between reading and behavior.

“We found that students who have behavior problems also have problems in reading,” he said of a study involving second graders published in 2011.

“If you improve reading, then you might have less problem with delinquency,” Wang said. “They are highly connected.”

He cautioned that poor reading does not cause delinquency, however. Research shows correlation but not causation.

From a child’s point of view

Smith, with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, describes it this way: “Imagine being a fourth-grader who realizes they can’t read and apprehends that they are in serious trouble and no cavalry of adults is mobilizing to save them.”

“What’s the incentive to resist oppositional behavior … to be respectful of adults and trust adult authority?” he said.

“You begin to understand how a young person … could get on a path that leads them to the juvenile justice system,” Smith said.

Approximately 500 volunteers tutor 1,200 children through AR Kids Read in four school districts in Pulaski County, Arkansas.
Approximately 500 volunteers tutor 1,200 children through AR Kids Read in four school districts in Pulaski County, Arkansas.

Three vital areas need to be addressed according to Smith: the school readiness of young children, the chronic absenteeism that causes some children to fall behind and the loss of knowledge during the summer. Kids often start out behind, fall behind further due to chronic absenteeism and lose skills in the summer, he said.

After-school programs can also address the problem in several ways, Smith said. They can:

  • enrich the school curriculum
  • add opportunities for kids with moderate or good reading skills to fall in love with books, and
  • build the skills of marginal and struggling students.

Smith said that after-school programs need to be more intentional in reaching and engaging the students who need extra time and assistance, not just those who happen to show up after school. Programs should make an effort to find the students who could benefit the most, he said.

Efforts in Arkansas

Since 2011, the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has been supported by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. The campaign has brought together a variety of stakeholders including schools, early-childhood programs and the state department of education, said Angela Duran, campaign director.

A large tutoring effort known as AR Kids Read spans four school districts in Pulaski County, where about 500 volunteers tutor 1,200 children.

In Springdale, Arkansas, the Parents Taking Leadership Action focuses on getting parents involved in their children’s education. The district includes many Latino parents as well as a large group of immigrants from the Marshall Islands who were encouraged to get to know teachers and take English classes at the school, Duran said.

The campaign also focuses on reducing chronic absenteeism by helping schools use data to pinpoint frequently absent students early and reach out to families in positive rather than negative ways to encourage attendance, she said. For example, a school may inquire about the family’s needs and connect the family to resources instead of focusing solely on truancy.

In addition, five summer programs with a literacy component are funded by the Arkansas Community Foundation.

A large reading program in more that 16 U.S. cities, Read for Success, is sponsored by the nonprofit Reading is Fundamental. It targets the 80 percent of children from economically disadvantaged communities who lose reading skills over the summer. Through the program, schools and community-based groups receive a collection of books, as well as training in ways to use the materials.. Children take home books during the summer and have access to related activities online.

Social, emotional skills required

Teaching reading skills is very important, said Spivek of the Stanford Graduate School of Education. But supporting the development of social and emotional skills and self-regulation is critical too, she said, noting that research shows poor self-regulation predicts both poor reading ability and poor behavior.

“We need to teach kids better early on,” she said.

Teacher training is the crucial ingredient, Spivek added. “What matters most is teaching. It’s more important than curriculum.”

“Focus on reading and self-regulation and social and emotional skills and math,” she advised.

Miles said that high-quality after-school settings with trained staff are extremely valuable.

“It’s a great time to do some of that social and emotional teaching and learning,” she said, especially for low-income kids who don’t necessarily have the opportunity for a lot of out-of-school activities.
Ten years ago, the city of Orlando launched the Parramore Kidz Zone in its lowest-income neighborhood. The program grew to offer six free after-school tutoring sites and a comprehensive pre-kindergarten program, as well as youth development programming that helps kids with employment, college access, educational and cultural experiences, and leadership development.

The city developed a summer learning program for elementary-school children at eight recreation centers. Twelve teachers provided a summer reading academy at each location using project-based activities.

chartChildren who struggle with reading are going to be frustrated, Spivek said. If you only focus on academics with them you are “missing the big picture,” she said.

Focus on the whole child, she said.


Use Child In Need of Services As Chance to Curtail Delinquency

Willie LovettThe first contact with the juvenile justice system presents an enormous opportunity for the court, court personnel, attorneys and service providers to impact the lives of children and their families. In many states, first contact happens within the context of the Child in Need of Services (CHINS), Families in Need of Services (FINS) and Persons in Need of Services (PINS).

In all cases, the “need of services” is paramount. First contact with the Juvenile Court must be taken seriously, and the role of all court personnel, attorneys and parties should be made clear to everyone involved.

First contact is important to the child. The child must know that the court will be fair, and that the court will follow the law. The child must also know that the dispositions decided on by the court represent an effort to rehabilitate the child. First contact presents an opportunity for the court to gather information, get to know the child and family, get to evaluate appropriate services and get to evaluate the child and the family’s receptiveness to services.

I recently had a child communicate to me through a representative that “this was the first time I’ve been in a courtroom and not been in trouble. Some judges really do care.”

CHINS in Georgia

CHINS is a relatively new legal construct in the state of Georgia. It came into being on Jan. 1, 2014, when Georgia’s 2013 Child Protection and Public Safety Act went into effect. The Georgia Code defines CHINS as a child adjudicated to be in need of care, guidance, counseling, structure, supervision, treatment or rehabilitation who also is adjudicated to be truant, habitually disobedient of his or her parent or custodian and is ungovernable, a runaway, a status offender (an offense applicable only to a child), a child who wanders or loiters between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m., a child who violates court-ordered supervision or a child who patronizes any bar where alcoholic beverages are being sold, unaccompanied by his or her parent or possesses alcoholic beverages, etc.

The purpose of the CHINS law includes: “to acknowledge that certain behaviors or conditions occurring within a family or school environment indicate that a child is experiencing serious difficulties and is in need of services and corrective action in order to protect such child from the irreversibility of certain choices and to protect the integrity of such child’s family; to make family members aware of their contributions to their family’s problems and to encourage family members to accept the responsibility to participate in any program of care ordered by the court; and to provide a child with a program of treatment, care, guidance, counseling, structure, supervision, and rehabilitation that he or she needs to assist him or her in becoming a responsible and productive member of society.” These CHINS are neither delinquent nor dependent. These are the children who can be rehabilitated.

CHINS Proceedings in Georgia

The Georgia Code does not set forth the procedures for handling CHINS cases, and Georgia’s Juvenile Courts’ implementation of the Code Section varies. Fulton County created a CHINS Protocol that established a diversionary program called the CHINS Registry. It refers families to the appropriate providers before a formal petition is filed, the goal being to keep children and families out of court involvement.

The CHINS Protocol also established a diversionary program called the Educational Recovery Program (ERP), which seeks to refer children likely to be adjudicated as truant and their families to services; again the goal is to keep children and families out of court involvement.

A laudable benefit of these diversionary programs is that they create a record of the attempts at resolution made by the court, and often provide a baseline for evaluation when a child is adjudicated as a CHINS. The CHINS proceeding in Fulton County goes forward without the involvement of the district attorney. The parent(s) “prosecute” the case, present evidence under oath, and the child, who is represented by a public defender, responds. The court makes the adjudication, based on clear and convincing evidence, whether the child is a CHINS.

CHINS Dispositions in Georgia

The Georgia Code does provide the court broad discretion in fashioning a disposition for the CHINS. The CHINS disposition is a tremendous opportunity to divert children from delinquency adjudications and to divert families from dependency adjudications. From our work with dually involved youth (children involved in both dependency and delinquency proceedings), we know that the outcomes for these dually involved children are drastically worse than for other children involved in the juvenile court system. Utilizing the CHINS disposition to steer a child away from delinquency adjudication and/or dependency adjudication will decrease the likelihood that the child will end up in the adult prison system.

The hallmark of the delinquency process to adjudication is some amount of time in detention. Numerous longitudinal studies show that early interventions for children likely to be delinquent decrease the likelihood of young adult incarceration. The CHINS disposition is another opportunity to provide early intervention and to prevent a delinquency adjudication.

Incidence and Dispositions of CHINS Cases 2014-15

In 2014, a total of 646 CHINS and CHINS Registry cases were managed by the Fulton County Juvenile Court. The dispositions of these cases show that 265 (41 percent) were dismissed (usually the families indicate that they have had a breakthrough with their providers, and request closure of the case), 168 (26 percent) were closed successfully (the child and family completed the requirements of the disposition), 52 (8 percent) were adjusted prior to adjudication (after holding the adjudication in abeyance, the child and family successfully participate in court-ordered services and supervision) and 32 (5 percent) of the cases ended up with probation or supervision. Overall, 517 (80 percent) of the CHINS cases reviewed by the Court ended up in positive outcomes, effectively preventing or delaying the child’s entry into the juvenile justice system.

The distribution of the 2014 CHINS cases totaling 646 showed that 258 (40 percent) were categorized as ungovernable/unruly, 196 (30 percent) were categorized as runaways, 69 (11 percent) were categorized as violations of probation/supervision, 64 (10 percent) were categorized as curfew violations, 41 (6 percent) were categorized as truancy and 18 (3 percent) were categorized as Minor in Possession of Alcohol or in a Bar.

In 2015, a total of 941 CHINS and CHINS Registry cases were managed by the Fulton County Juvenile Court. The dispositions of these cases show that 292 (31 percent) were dismissed, 235 (25 percent) were closed successfully, 38 (4 percent) were adjusted prior to adjudication and 75 (8 percent) of the cases ended up with probation or supervision. Although not as high a percentage as 2014, in 2015 640 (68 percent) of the CHINS cases reviewed by the court ended up in positive outcomes.

The distribution of the 2015 CHINS cases totaling 941 showed that 360 (38 percent) were categorized as ungovernable/unruly, 233 (25 percent) were categorized as runaways, 231 (25 percent) were categorized as truancy, 65 (7 percent) were categorized as curfew violations, 40 (4 percent) were categorized as violations of probation/supervision and 12 (1 percent) were categorized as Minor in Possession of Alcohol or in a Bar.

Demographics of CHINS Cases 2014-2015

According to the 2015 Census population estimate, Fulton County has more than 1 million residents, and currently lists Fulton County’s population at 1,014,932. The population of Fulton County is diverse, as shown in the following figures: African-American residents (44.3 percent), white residents (40.5 percent), Hispanic (7.2 percent) and Asian (6.7 percent). This population mix is not reflective of the CHINS demographics, which reflect an overwhelming representation of African-Americans and raises the need for a statistical analysis of disproportionate minority contact in this system.

The demographics of the 2014 CHINS and CHINS Registry population were 52 percent female and 48 percent male. The racial breakdown reflected 82 percent African-American, 7 percent Caucasian and 4 percent Hispanic, with 7 percent categorized as Other/Unknown. The demographics of the 2015 CHINS and CHINS Registry population were 51 percent female and 49 percent male. The racial breakdown reflected 85 percent African-American, 5 percent Caucasian and 5 percent Hispanic, with 5 percent were categorized as Other/Unknown.

The importance of first contact

Early intervention is an important component of services to prevent further penetration into the juvenile justice system. CHINS-type systems provide the court an opportunity to get the child and their families the services they need before the child is facing the specter of a delinquency adjudication. Our data shows that our CHINS children are disproportionately African-American compared to the population of African-Americans in Fulton County. Our data also shows that the majority of our CHINS cases are categorized as ungovernable/unruly, runaways and truants.

The data is permitting the court to focus our service providers to provide services geared toward these populations — ungovernable/unruly, runaways and truants. First contact, which utilizes data-driven responses to our population and issues, is allowing the court to work smarter and more efficiently. I encourage my colleagues to utilize first contact situations in their jurisdictions to design data-driven responses also.

Presiding Judge Willie J. Lovett Jr. is a Juvenile Court judge for the Atlanta Judicial Circuit. Judge Lovett also serves as an adjunct professor of law at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, where he teaches Juvenile Law, Local Government Law and Georgia Practice and Procedure.

Communities Need to Help Heal the Traumatized Juvenile Delinquent

Cathy Anthofer-FialonJuvenile justice is a delicate dance between the court, families and the community. Juvenile justice began as a recognition that youth/children are different from adults and benefit from the rehabilitative nature of the court system.

However, communities can demand youth be “taught a lesson” and pressure may be placed on courts to move toward detention placements over community-based treatment/rehabilitation. Accountability for a crime is necessary, but in the context of teaching and the spirit of rehabilitation. How patient should a community be? What about the youth who has received all the resources a probation officer has to offer, but still keeps offending?

For more information, visit the JJIE Resource Hub

I have watched probation officers throw up their hands, looking exasperated. I too have expressed frustration when a youth continually escalates, as if the youth believes all suggestions, orders, motions, detention are laughable. And then, I have to stop myself and remember the youth as a small child. What accountability did the court, families and the community have then with this youth? Could experiences as a small child be the cause of the current delinquency?

Delinquent behavior is far more likely in a youth who has experienced trauma. This is not an excuse from good behavior, but a likely cause that must be addressed for the youth to move forward in a noncriminal life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, conducted in the late 1990s by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda, illustrated how childhood trauma impacts a child well into adulthood. In a study conducted in Florida it was documented, “Half of the Florida juveniles reported four or more ACEs, compared with 13 percent of those in the CDC’s ACE study.”

When a child is continually in an environment of neglect or abuse the child’s brain, which experiences rapid development from birth to 5 years old, develops to respond to danger —  continually. The ability to trust an adult does not exist. A neglected or abused child who trusts the offending adult is at great risk, so the brain programs itself to not trust.

Later in life, when a probation officer or a judge enters the picture to help and encourages the youth to trust, it is not possible until the brain is reprogrammed, until the trauma is healed. Imagine what would have happened if our cave-dwelling ancestors did not run or fight when confronted by a saber-toothed tiger. They would likely have been killed. No future generation would exist.

So, their brains became programmed to fight or flee or even play dead (freeze) when danger approached. Children continually exposed to trauma cannot turn off the fight/flight/freeze mode, because their danger is not an easily identifiable saber-toothed tiger; their danger has been adults calling themselves “parents” or “protectors.” How can they learn to identify who is truly a safe adult and who is not, when the very people they live with are the tigers?

If communities are ready to address juvenile delinquency in ways that best protects the community and offers the youth a healthy, productive future, then communities must agree to be part of the solution. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child advocates several pathways to heal trauma and build resilience in youth. The three most distinguishing actions to promote healing and build resilience are:

  • At least one “stable, caring, and supportive relationship between a child and the important adults in his or her life.”
  • Helping children build a sense of mastery over their life circumstances.
  • The supportive context of affirming faith or cultural traditions.

Each of these offers opportunity for members of the community to be part of the solution to delinquency: communities that support mentoring opportunities, offer strong cultural traditions involving youth, assisting youth to understand the control they have in their own lives.

How can these happen in a community? Employers of teens are in a great position to mentor and help youth build a sense of mastery over their life circumstances. Many times delinquent youth are required to secure employment as a condition of employment exactly because of these behavior change benefits.

However, community business owners must be willing to employ youth on probation. Community leaders could create opportunities for youth during festival times, serving as traditions to be celebrated and honored. Investments in youth when delinquency has occurred have the potential to save the community dollars and increase safety.

If the chain of trauma is allowed to continue and the youth damaged by childhood trauma is not healed, the trauma will continue into the next generation, and the community will stay at risk. It takes commitment from each member of a community to provide safe environments for healing, as well as opportunities to heal.

Cathy Anthofer-Fialon is now working to address Adverse Childhood Experiences through the building of a regional approach to resilience in northern Michigan.

Are Infants that Grow Up in Recession-Ravaged Homes Likelier to Become Delinquents?

A study recently published in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that children adversely affected by economic downturns as infants may be likelier to engage in delinquent behaviors and substance abuse when they are older adolescents and young adults.

Culling data from 1997’s National Longitudinal Study of Youth, researchers at the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University examined a nationally representative sample of almost 9,000 young people born between 1980 and 1984. According to the study, infants exposed to a 1 percent deviation from regional unemployment rate average were found to have greater odds of using marijuana, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, as well as a greater likelihood than their cohorts of being arrested, affiliating with gangs or engaging in both petty or major theft.

Researchers sought to examine the potential consequences of the 1980 and 1981 to 1982 recessions on adolescents, in particular the possibility that living in an economically-disadvantaged home during the timeframe was likelier to produce a young person involved in substance abuse or criminal activity. In late 1982, the national unemployment rate stood at 10.8 percent - the highest such rate in the United States since the Great Depression.

“The macroeconomic environment during infancy can have serious long-term effects on substance use and delinquent behavior,” the report reads. “These potential long-term effects can play an important role in policy making for adolescent mental health care.”

When Two Insecure Worlds Collide, Kids Are Hurt

Wouldn't it be nice if life were simple--that the answers to our problems were obvious and problems solved with painless ease? Take for instance Johnny, the boy I described in my last essay, who from birth was toted around by his Mom to trap houses to get her fix. No telling what he saw--or much worse, what others did to him--in those places. Johnny is a confused kid, emotionally pained by fear of insecurity. His weapon of defense: defiance fueled by anger.

Johnny pains us too, because he is aggravating with his chronic disobedience of the rules. We keep sanctioning him, with the misguided notion that punishment will change his attitude, until we give up, wash our hands, and commit him to the state thinking we did all we could do. The paradox of juvenile justice is that on one hand we do have the capacity to diagnose his cause of delinquency and we do know what it will take to improve his behavior, but on the other hand most systems don't know what to do or don't have the resources or both.  Our response is to give up and take the road of least resistance--detain or commit by default. When the means to do what is right for a kid is not readily available, we dump our problem somewhere else--a detention facility, state custody, or in a long-term secure facility.

Consequently, most states, including mine, have a lot of low-risk, high-needs kids in state custody that could otherwise remain in the community if judges had the resources necessary to effectively treat these kids. We commit them to a place we call secure, but the truth is they are insecure. They aggravate the insecurities of the Johnnys who will return home one day worse off than when they entered.

I admit that I fell victim to this default system during the first few years on the bench, and it was frustrating. Our detention and commitment rates were high--and so were our recidivist rates! Something had to give in my community to reverse this vicious cycle of detention to commitment to re-offending. Juveniles entering our system were getting worse, not better. This is true in many states--including my own!

I did not get that help until 2003, after four years into the job--and it wasn't in the form of money. My court joined over 100 courts from around the country to participate in the Annie E. Casey Foundation Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI). The JDAI modelm, along with the networking, taught me to think outside the box.

The foundation of any successful local juvenile justice system is leadership through collaboration, and JDAI helped us to realize this need. Something had to give, and that “something” was us!  We had to stop pointing fingers and saying, "Its not my problem," or coming up with social, legal, political and who knows how many other reasons our creative minds can conjure to excuse why we can't be and do different for the good of our kids--and ultimately our community.

We created a juvenile justice cooperative and from it many cooperative protocols were produced in accordance with the Community Based Risk Reduction law that exists in our juvenile code (OCGA 15-11-10).  That's right! It is public policy that judges exercise leadership to bring stakeholders together to develop cooperative agreements to address and prevent delinquency, deprivation and unruliness.

Over time, this cooperative caused a cognitive shift through the relationships that ensued between the agencies--a realization that the juvenile justice system is not a single entity, but a collection of independent public and private groups that can do far more for kids and families if their resources are shared and realigned to focus on a desired outcome--prevent delinquency and reduce recidivism.

This cognitive group shift resulted in a 70 percent decrease in the average daily detention population and 43 percent fewer commitments to state custody.

Johnny is now on GPS and he and the family are being evaluated by our Clayton County Collaborative Child Study Team (Quad C-ST), our single point of entry into our System of Care (SOC). This group of multi-disciplinary stakeholders meets weekly to assess kids and families to develop a plan that targets the reasons for his behavior, his childhood trauma among others. The stakeholders share resources, a concept foreign to us in the beginning, but a way of life now.

Recently, I made a presentation as part of a panel at the Carter Center, an annual symposium on mental health sponsored by former First Lady Rosalyn Carter. I had the privilege to share the panel with Dr. Julian Ford, a leading researcher on child trauma and delinquency.

He shared studies focusing on trauma child victimization as a pathway to delinquency, including clinical and epidemiological studies indicating that three in four youths in the juvenile justice system have been exposed to some form of trauma. Trauma could include violence, abuse, neglect, or an accumulation of stressful life events such as family problems, including death, drugs, parent-child conflict and mental illness.

Studies indicate that victimized children under age 12 are at serious risk, especially if in a family of low function, and may respond as a victim and act out in self-protection. Their self-protective responses, in their child’s mind, can translate into defiance of rules and authority.

Dr. Ford states it this way--a traumatized youth's "thinking tends to be reactive, rigid, impulsive and defiant. This, in turn, leads to distorted views of self, peers and relationships and difficulty solving ordinary social problems."

Sound familiar for us in juvenile justice?

Dr. Ford and others have recommendations for judges--require an assessment tool to determine the presence of trauma stressors to design an order that targets the trauma needs of the child using proven interventions, such as emotional dys-regulation and survival using victim based information processing to help the kid recover from victimization.

Detention and commitment re-traumatizes the kid--yet it happens too often because commitment becomes a default when the hammer is the only tool.

Most systems of funding are ineffective and wasteful--not to mention hurtful! We spend more money removing kids from their home, even though about half could be treated at home at a cost far less expensive--and with greater success.

A number of states have made changes in how they do business, with good outcomes. The changes were dramatic--the type that makes people insecure and push back, making excuses why we cant do it, for fear of change.

For those feeling the insecurity and want to push back, now you know how Johnny lives every day of his life.

Our insecurities keep many of our kids locked up in a world of insecurity. Something has to give.

Controlling Parents More Likely to Have Delinquent Children, Study Finds

Demanding, highly controlling, authoritarian parents are more likely to have delinquent, disrespectful children than parents who are seen by their children as legitimate authority figures, according to research from the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

Relying on data from the New Hampshire Youth Study, a longitudinal survey of middle and high school children, researchers identified three distinct parenting styles — authoritative, authoritarian and permissive and looked at whether those styles influenced children’s beliefs about the legitimacy of their parents’ authority, according to a press release from UNH.

“The style that parents used to rear their children had a direct influence on whether those children perceived their parents as legitimate authority figures,” said Rick Trinkner, a doctoral candidate at UNH and the lead researcher. “Adolescents who perceived parents as legitimate were then less likely to engage in delinquent behavior.”

Authoritative parents, who are demanding and controlling but also warm and receptive, are more likely to raise children who view their parents as having legitimate authority.

Children of authoritarian parents, on the other hand, perceived their parents as the least legitimate, according to the study.

“When children consider their parents to be legitimate authority figures, they trust the parent and feel they have an obligation to do what their parents tell them to do,” Trinkner said. “This is an important attribute for any authority figure to possess, as the parent does not have to rely on a system of rewards and punishments to control behavior, and the child is more likely to follow the rules when the parent is not physically present.”

Permissive parents who are not demanding or controlling of their children but who are still warm and receptive to their needs, have children who are less self-controlled and content. Because they rarely enforce rules, their children do not see them as having parental authority.

“While it is generally agreed that authoritative parenting is more effective than authoritarian and permissive styles, little is known about why some parenting styles are more efficient than others,” Trinkner said. “Our results showed that parental legitimacy was an important mechanism by which parenting styles affected adolescent behavior.”

Disney, Take Beyond Scared Straight Aff the Air

Leonard Witt
Leonard Witt

An Open Letter to

Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company

Dear Mr. Iger:

I know Disney is a large company and you, like Rupert Murdoch of News Corporation, can’t oversee everything. So I want to let you know about one of your company’s investments -- Disney’s one-third equity stake in the A&E Television Networks. Since it is not fully under Disney’s control, maybe that’s why you haven’t been watching A&E’s "Beyond Scared Straight." Certainly if you had, you would have intervened and pulled it off the air, but alas last week marked the beginning of its second season.

I am calling your attention to "Beyond Scared Straight" because it doesn’t at all fit the core principles of the Disney Corporation. I am sure you have read those core principles, maybe you even helped write them because they are front and center on your website.

Here, I will reprint them as a reminder:

Three core principles help guide our daily decisions and actions:

  • Act and create in an ethical manner, and consider the consequences of our decisions
  • Champion the happiness and well-being of kids, parents, and families in our endeavors
  • Inspire kids, parents, employees and communities to make a lasting, positive change in the world

Let’s take them one at time:

  • Act and create in an ethical manner, and consider the consequences of our decisions

scared_straight_seriesThe evidence is in, the Scared Straight program where kids are sent into prisons to be scared straight, does not work. Experts  writing for and at other reputable publications have made it very clear that volumes of research have shown the Scared Straight approach does not work. Here is what Joe Vignati, director of Justice Programs at the Georgia Governor's Office For Children and Families, recently wrote: “The scared straight approach is an inappropriate and unacceptable means for disciplining children. This approach has been shown to cause short- and long- term harm and actually INCREASES the likelihood of re-offending among some participants.”

Of course, you are free to argue with Mr. Vignati and the scores of researchers, but if by chance, you might believe in empirical evidence, then you might ask yourself and the folks at A&E if all of you have acted in an ethical manner and considered the consequences of your decision to subject these kids to the public humiliation they receive on the show.

That brings us the second of Disney’s core principles:

  •   Champion the happiness and well-being of kids, parents, and families in our endeavors

Does that principle include having several hulking adults surround individual teenagers and scream at them until the teens break down into tears? Does championing their well being include dressing them up in prison stripes and have then duck walk across the prison floor in front of your two million-plus viewers who watched the show last week? Does it include threatening to toss one of the teens into a cell with a prisoner who eyes the boy up and down and smiles big -- or coupling him with a big ugly guy who wants to make him his girlfriend with the complicity of the guards? You know what Mr. Iger, I found it down right disgusting and I do believe it tarnishes your image and Walt Disney’s legacy that has been put in your trust.

The final Disney core principle:

  •  Inspire kids, parents, employees and communities to make a lasting, positive change in the world

If you think screaming at kids until it gets your stomach churning is inspiration to make a lasting change, then sir, you and Disney have a problem.

Enough, please do me a favor, watch the program, then call your equity partners at the Hearst Corporation and NBCUniversal and pull this show off the air now. Then apologize to everyone who really cares about kids and then invest some real money in the kids who have been in the program and get them the help they need to lead productive lives.

Judge Steven Teske: Build Not a Foundation of Sand

I am sitting in the back of a room at a local non-profit -- observing a break-out session with parents of troubled kids. John is leading the session. He is 20 years old.

A father raises his hand and says, “My boy wants to play basketball all day. He doesn’t go to school. I can’t get him to do anything.”

“Take the basketball away from him.” John responds with a firm tone. “But keep the basketball hoop up so he can see it when he walks by,” John finishes with a grin.

A low laughter erupts. The father says, “Thanks. I’ll do it.”

A mother tells John how her son goes to school, but will not do his homework and is failing. “All he wants to do is play his Nintendo and be with his so-called friends,” she says with frustration.

“Go to the school every day, sit in his classes, make him feel uncomfortable -- raise the ante,” John exclaims.

Like a crescendo in a musical score, John increases his volume and with a commanding tone says, “Tell him you will make his life uncomfortable until he does right at school and home.” Staring at the mother he says, “And take away that Nintendo!”

Again, the crowd erupts in approving laughter. The mother nods in agreement.

John offers parting advice. “You are not a friend to your kid. You are his parent. Be in his business every day. Know his friends. He won’t like you at times-and that is the difference between a parent and a friend.”

How does a 20 year old know what to tell these parents?  He sounded like my mother-and the research agrees with him.

For example, we know that adolescents whose parents are authoritative (responsive and demanding) are less swayed by peer pressure to misbehave than are adolescents whose parents are permissive. Adolescents from demanding and responsive homes are more susceptible to pro-social peer pressure, such as pressure to do well in school, but less susceptible to anti-social pressure, such as efforts to make them use illicit drugs and alcohol).

This is so important in the work of rehabilitating delinquent youth. A leading cause of delinquent conduct is peer influence. The first task of any probation officer must be to identify anti-social peers and break-up that peer network. Parents play a major role too. They must be demanding and responsive.

Everyone has a role to play. Permissive parents must be injected with clinical type services such as MST or Functional Family Therapy. The Judge must be adamant -- successfully participate or be punished!

The probation officer must be vigilant of the kid’s peer contacts. The kid must be told which friends are forbidden. He must be told no contact or they will be brought into court with their parents and ordered to stay away. The latter is a kiss of death for any kid -- and believe me -- it works!

John was raised by his grandmother. She made him go to school, study, and make good grades. She nurtured and watched over him. She knew his friends and made sure they were good for him. He had a curfew. She was demanding and responsive -- she was his warden.

One day John’s mother showed up and “snatched” him away. She missed him. She wanted to be his mother -- but she wasn’t equipped like his grandmother.

Her live-in boyfriend beat her.  John witnessed this for four years.

He escaped by finding friends -- and they were not the friends grandma would approve. They were gangbangers, smoking pot, enjoying sex, and carrying guns.

It wasn’t long before John was in trouble -- for possessing pot, carrying a gun, and you guessed it -- he became a teenage father.

John says he straightened up when he saw his child for the first time. He works to support his child. Some of this work includes teaching at the non-profit.

John knows what a demanding parent can do for a child.  He also knows what a permissive parent can’t do. John has a story to tell permissive parents.

John credits his newborn with changing his ways. I know better -- it was his grandmother. John already possessed the foundation to do good because his grandmother was demanding and responsive. His child was merely a catalyst that returned him to his original path-the one his grandmother paved.

John has a lesson for us doing this work -- fixing a kid may mean fixing a parent too. It also begs the question how important intervention may be in the lives of children zero to three, but that’s another story-for another day.

John taught me that demanding parents can buffer their kids from poor influences -- a key to prevention and rehabilitation. A demanding parent may create an angry child, but it’s worth the pain to prevent a scary kid!


Ben Chambers On What Juvenile Courts Should Know about Trauma and Delinquency

It's not a secret that many youth in juvenile court struggle with symptoms related to trauma, but it can be hard to remember in court, when faced with a defiant youth who's been repeatedly delinquent.

So it's great to see a new publication from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 10 Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know about Trauma and Delinquency.(Even though it seems to be aimed only at judges, it's useful for all staff who work with or in juvenile court.)

Scoff at the idea that trauma could be related to breaking the law? Here's a telling observation from the publication:

It does not go unnoticed by youth when their safety and well-being is not addressed but their delinquent behavior is. These kinds of paradoxes and frustrations can increase the likelihood that youth will respond defiantly and with hostility to court and other professionals who are in positions of authority. System professionals would benefit from recognizing that imposing only negative or punitive consequences will likely do little to change the youth’s patterns of aggression, rule breaking, and risky behaviors because such a response does not address the impact of traumatic stress on the child. By recognizing and addressing the role of trauma in the lives of youth, the court and other systems can become more effective in meeting the needs of the justice-involved youth and the needs of the community.

And, just to whet your appetite, here's the first three things on the list:

1. A traumatic experience is an event that threatens someone’s life, safety, or well-being.

2. Child traumatic stress can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

3. Trauma impacts a child’s development and health throughout his or her life.

4. Complex trauma is associated with risk of delinquency.

For the rest of the list and lots of helpful detail, including the research behind the publication, download the full document and share it with your colleagues. Other resources on childhood traumatic stress are also available from the document's other co-sponsors, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.


Linda Wagner on the Juvenile Justice System: How Much are Evidence-Based Practices Worth?

Using evidence-based practices in the juvenile justice system reduces delinquency and avoids costs. Those of us in the field hear this regularly – but it can be hard to see their impact on a day-to-day basis.

How do we know they work? Let's start at the beginning. What we commonly refer to as "evidence-based practices" in the juvenile justice field are based on over 40 years of research regarding what works to reduce juvenile crime. Unlike studies that look at single programs, this research looked at over a hundred studies and found what consistently worked to reduce crime versus what consistently made crime worse. [1]

It showed that services that combine juvenile corrections (detention, probation, community service, restitution to victims, etc.) with treatment that address dynamic risk areas have a significant impact on reducing crime. Treatment includes alcohol and other drug treatment, school support, anger management, family counseling, mental health services, etc. The treatment aspect must include skill-building, so youth and families leave the system better able to live productive lives. The intensity of treatment must be matched to the youth’s risk level.

All youth in the system should receive this mix of sanctions and treatment, but low-risk youth should receive less intensive services and high-risk youth should receive more intensive services. (Research indicates that intensive services for lower risk youth can actually increase delinquency.)

This approach can literally turn the tide on delinquency. I will focus on the high-risk offenders to illustrate this point. In Oregon, where I work, we define "chronic juvenile offenders" as youth who commit three or more new criminal offenses during a follow-up period. A 2006 Oregon study of chronic juvenile offenders found that the percent of youth who became chronic dropped from 7.2 percent in 2001 to 6.2 percent in 2006.

So What? A lot of resources go toward crime reduction. What difference does it make to reduce the chronic group by one percentage point? It makes a huge difference. If Oregon had one percent fewer chronic offenders (7.2 percent to 6.2 percent) in a single year, there would have been 2,000 fewer crimes, with over $22 million in avoided costs.

The cost avoidance study has been conducted for each county in Oregon. For example, Douglas County has strategically implemented evidence-based practices over the last several years. Out of a sample of 699 juvenile offenders with a criminal referral, 9.6 percent were chronic offenders in 2001; a rate that dropped to 5.9 percent in 2008.

What would have been the impact in 2001 if the chronic youth offender group rate in Douglas County had been the same as it experienced in 2008? There would have been 284 fewer crimes, for a cost avoidance of $3,165,427. [2]

Reducing the percentage of youth who become chronic offenders even by a small amount significantly reduces crime in local communities and yields substantial cost avoidance. This occurs because the chronic group is so criminally active that even a small reduction creates very positive outcomes.

The cost avoidance calculation is based on:

a)  an average cost to victims established by a national study;

b)  costs to the juvenile justice system including personnel, programs, utilities, training, supplies, etc.;

c)  costs to law enforcement including making arrests and processing of juvenile crimes; and

d)  prosecution, defense, and court costs.

Unlike “cost savings” -- which suggests funds sitting in a bank -- cost avoidance is related to the cost of each criminal referral and what is “avoided” by reducing delinquency.

Investing in evidence-based practices is the best way to achieve significant cuts in crime and their associated costs. All we have to do is look at the data.

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.


[1] Latessa, Edward J 2004. "From Theory to Practice: What Works in Reducing Recidivism?" State of Crime and Justice in Ohio, pp. 170-171.

[2] Wagner, Linda 2010. "The Cost Avoidance Model," Douglas County Juvenile Department 4th Annual Report Card To The Community: Fiscal Year 2009-2010, p 5.