CORVALLIS - Reducing juvenile crime and violence is a hot topic in Oregon. It was part of the governor's re-election campaign, it's a focus of the legislature and it's one of the goals of many state and local agencies.
But once you set goals, how do you go about reaching them and measuring progress?
Oregon State University's Family Policy Program has compiled research that addresses these questions and Oregon's Wellness Goals and Benchmarks for Children, Youth and Families, according to professor Clara Pratt, chair of the OSU Family Policy Program.
Information compiled in the project gives communities examples of measurable outcomes that programs can be held responsible for, and of proven strategies that can be used to reach these outcomes. Pratt said the project involved a huge search of literature about family policy program research.
"Communities or groups can use the information to plan programs based on the research that will help us achieve our state goals and benchmarks," she said.
Which kinds of programs seem to work in reducing juvenile crime and delinquency?
"First, programs that treat all youth as a homogenous group are likely to fail," said Pratt. "Research shows that there are distinct differences between early and late bloomers. Late bloomers (those committing their first crimes after age 15) are less likely to become repeat violent offenders than early bloomers."
An analysis of youth offenders in Lane County, she noted, found that 20 percent of youth offenders commit 80 percent of the youth crimes. Most were early bloomers.
"Since clearly early bloomers commit more and more serious crimes, intervention for that group would be more productive than targeting all youth offenders equally," Pratt said.
What factors are associated with the development of early bloomers?
"A healthy home environment is the single most important factor in preventing delinquency accounting for 30 to 40 percent of child anti-social behavior," said Pratt.
"Reducing anti-social behavior among young children is a critical part of juvenile crime prevention. To reduce the development of early anti-social behavior, programs can target risk families who are at risk of child maltreatment because these families often lack the skills and supports needed to effectively parent," she added.
"In addition to support to improve early parenting skills," said Pratt, "comprehensive programs will target children who are aggressive. Such comprehensive programs will again work to improve parenting skills as well as address children's anger management and other social skills."
Such comprehensive approaches have proven effective at reducing aggressive and impulsive behaviors in children and youth, Pratt noted. Other programs that reduce risk of crime focus on increased school success, and decreased alcohol and drug use.
The review of research literature also indicates what doesn't work, Pratt said.
"Camping and field trips and 'scared straight' visits to prison have all proven ineffective at reducing delinquent behavior in the long term," she said. "Programs that focus only on mandatory school attendance also don't work."
According to Pratt, OSU faculty have developed a publication titled "Building Results: from Wellness Goals to Positive Outcomes for Oregon's Children Youth and Families" that examines research related to five goals set by the Oregon Commission on Children and Family. Those goals are: Strong, nurturing families; healthy, thriving children; positive youth development; educational progress and success, and caring communities and systems. The publication is available from the Oregon Commission on Children and Families in Salem. Phone: 503-373-1570.
"Overall," Pratt said, "we hope communities can use this research to design effective programs that fit them best," said Pratt. "We hope this research becomes a tool to help communities design effective programs that reflect 'best practices and that can achieve measurable outcomes.'"