Self-Reported Delinquency among Alberta's Youth: Findings from a Survey of 2,001 Junior and Senior High School Students
Gomes, Jeanette T., Bertrand, Lorne D., Paetsch, Joanne J., Hornick, Joseph P., Adolescence
Youth violence continues to be of great concern in North America. A recent poll of 1,520 Canadians revealed that while 44% felt that the crime rate is rising, 71% believed that youth crime is increasing (EKOS Research Associates, Inc., 2000). This level of concern, however, seems to be out of proportion with the reality of youth violence. Researchers have described the preoccupation with youth violence as a moral panic that has been fuelled by exaggerated media attention (Dolmage, 1996; Sullivan & Miller, 1999). There is cause for concern not so much because of the prevalence of youth violence--indeed, there is much evidence supporting its decline (Doob & Sprott, 1998; Stevenson, Tufts, Hendrick, & Kowalski, 1999; Statistics Canada, 2001)--but because this kind of attention has put pressure on educational institutions as well as the wider community to treat all young people as potentially violent. The impact of this pressure is reflected in the responses from government, school officials, and others, where pr ocedures and laws have become increasingly punitive and oppressive. Development of more effective and creative ways to respond to youth violence requires the recognition that youth delinquency is complex.
The present paper attempts to further examine, through the use of self-report data, relationships between extent of past-year delinquency and gender, grade level, psychosocial problems, and extent of past-year victimization. By including a range of both noncriminal and criminal acts in analyzing delinquency and victimization, the findings are intended to portray a fuller and more accurate description of the experiences of Canadian youth.
Findings presented in this paper draw on data from a 1999 study on youth victimization, crime and delinquency in Alberta conducted by the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family (CRILF) in collaboration with researchers from the University of Alberta (Gomes, Bertrand, Paetsch, & Hornick, 2000). The province of Alberta is located in western Canada and has a population of approximately 3 million, 80% of whom reside in urban areas.
A self-report questionnaire was distributed to junior (Grades 7, 8, and 9) and senior (Grades 10, 11, and 12) high school students aged 12 to 18. The survey was conducted in the spring and fall of 1999. The self-report method utilized in the study is recognized by researchers studying offending behavior as an effective means to obtain information about delinquency and victimization not available from official data sources (Bowling, Graham, & Ross, 1994; Creechan & Silverman, 1995; Tanner, 2001). This method offers the advantage of providing information about incidents not reported by the police as well as information about incidents not reported to the police or possibly to anyone at all.
In total, 67 junior and senior high schools from the public and separate (Catholic) systems agreed to participate in the survey. These schools were located in 15 cities, towns and rural areas. Selection of schools (excluding those with special or alternative curriculums) was made randomly where possible. In larger cities, one public senior high school and two public junior high schools, and one Catholic senior high school and two Catholic junior high schools were randomly chosen from each geographic quadrant of the city. This method was also utilized in smaller cities where there were sufficient numbers of schools. Random selection was not possible in towns and rural areas that had only one public and/or one Catholic school.
Selection of students to survey was also made randomly where possible. Based on provincial enrollments by grade, a proportionate stratification sampling technique was utilized to determine target sample sizes for each of the grade levels. With the help of school officials, student names and addresses were randomly generated from enrollment records. This procedure was not possible for all schools, and adjustments had to be made for selection of student names and distribution of consent forms.
A course-based selection method was used for 38 schools because school administrators were unable to generate the required mailing lists of student names or because class enrollments were too small and the sampling technique was not practical. For these schools, a course that was mandatory for all students was chosen, and students who were enrolled in the course were selected to be contacted about the survey. Consent forms were mailed, except for 14 schools where the students had to take the forms home to their parent/guardian.
In all, 6,656 students were contacted about the survey. Each student's parent/guardian received a letter describing the survey, along with a consent form, which was to be signed and returned to CRILF (a business-reply envelope was provided). Signed consent forms were received for 2,675 students (a response rate of 40%). School principals assisted with notifying students about the survey's date, time, and location. The researchers administered the survey questionnaire in the schools during school hours, and confidentiality, anonymity and the voluntary nature of participation were explained. After completing the questionnaire, the student inserted it into a blank envelope, then sealed it and dropped the package into a collection box.
A total of 2,001 students completed the questionnaire. Two types of response rates are meaningful: based on the 6,656 students contacted about the survey, the response rate was 30%; based on the 2,675 students for whom signed consent forms were received, the response rate was 75%.
Limitations in Representativeness of the Sample
Generalizability of the responses is limited by a number of factors even though procedures were adopted, where possible, to maximize representativeness of the sample to the population of adolescents in Alberta. First, a more systematic selection of schools from throughout the province was not feasible in the research project. Second, the nature of school-based surveys is such that they are limited to sampling students enrolled in school and, therefore, exclude students not in school for various reasons, including skipping classes (truancy), dropping out, attending private school, and being home schooled. Third, it should be noted that the experience of youth living on First Nations (aboriginal) reserves is not addressed in this research. Fourth, because the written materials were available only in English, it is possible that the sample underrepresents youth whose parents have limited English-language comprehension. Finally, voluntary participation may produce a self-selection bias such that those individuals who are most motivated to participate are also the ones at a lower risk of engaging in delinquent activities or being victimized. For these reasons, the rates of delinquency and victimization obtained from this survey should be considered as conservative estimates.
A final caution should be made regarding interpretation of findings. As with all cross-sectional surveys, measures that are taken only at a single point in time limit conclusions about …
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Publication information: Article title: Self-Reported Delinquency among Alberta's Youth: Findings from a Survey of 2,001 Junior and Senior High School Students. Contributors: Gomes, Jeanette T. - Author, Bertrand, Lorne D. - Author, Paetsch, Joanne J. - Author, Hornick, Joseph P. - Author. Journal title: Adolescence. Volume: 38. Issue: 149 Publication date: Spring 2003. Page number: 75+. © 1999 Libra Publishers, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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