Effective Group Work with Delinquents in Hong Kong

By Cheung, Chau-kiu; Ngai, Steven Sek-yum | Adolescence, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Effective Group Work with Delinquents in Hong Kong


Cheung, Chau-kiu, Ngai, Steven Sek-yum, Adolescence


Training and educational activities in group work for delinquents are important rehabilitative services (Coman, Evans, & Burrows, 2002; Hayes & Schimmel, 1993; Page, Campbell, & Wilder, 1994). Their success tends to hinge on the premise that these delinquents are deficient in social skills and cognitive abilities required for resisting delinquent peers' influence (Okwunnabua & Duryea, 1998; Rose, Bearden, & Teel, 1992). This view seems to apply to delinquents who lack social control from the family and instead are in the company of peers who are likely to be delinquent as well. Therefore, time with the family and time with friends would be objective conditions for determining delinquents' need for and benefit from developmental group work. The nexus involving these conditions and the effectiveness of group work, nevertheless, is speculative. Its validity may become apparent with the empirical evidence generated by the present study.

In Hong Kong and elsewhere, outreaching social work shoulders an important responsibility for locating and helping delinquents or young people at risk of delinquency, who are not under arrest or incapacitated. These delinquents often gather in groups in the streets and are interested in group activities (Sampson & Groves, 1989). Meanwhile, they are susceptible to influences from criminal gangs, which either recruit them for criminal activities or otherwise exploit them. To counter this pernicious group influence, outreaching social work often gathers these delinquents in groups to develop their cognitive abilities and social skills. Outreaching social work is important because it can deliver services on the spot, rather than wait for youths who are interested in social services (Husband & Platt, 1993). These groups tend to be feasible in that the delinquents are often friends or acquaintances of each other or have similar residential backgrounds and lifestyles in the community. Notably, this homogeneity expedites the scheduling of group activities. The group activities are in turn likely to be effective for the youths' rehabilitation because of the group properties of social interaction, social support, reinforcement, and sharing (Coman et al., 2002; Hayes & Schimmel, 1993; Lee & Gaucher 2000). Just as involvement in delinquent groups amplifies delinquency (Felson, Liska, South, & McNulty, 1994), participation in the developmental group boosts its benefit through social facilitation, in which group members emulate each other to achieve the group's goals (Yoder, Whitbeck, & Hoyt, 2003). Moreover, the developmental activities in terms of training and education for promoting the delinquents' cognitive and social skills are pertinent to their personal growth and resistance to delinquent peer influences. In the first place, these noxious influences are notably responsible for young offenders' perpetuation of delinquency (Sampson & Lamb, 1993; Zhang & Messner, 1996). Resisting these influences is therefore crucial for rehabilitation. However, delinquents tend to be deficient in resistant skills (Okwunnabua & Duryea, 1998; Rosenbaum & Hanson, 1998). In addition, cognitive deficit is a likely root of their delinquency (Kendall, 1991; Raine, 1993). They usually hold irrational beliefs, which prompt them to attain success by whatever means. Meanwhile, they are deficient in empathy, moral reasoning, and critical thinking (Rest, 1984; Widaman & Todd, 1985). As such, they are unable to control their anger, take care of others, and champion public interests.

However, group services for delinquents are not always effective (Okwunnabua & Duryea, 1998; Rosenbaum & Hanson, 1998). One reason is that the services tend to be unrealistic because they neglect the social context of delinquents. Accordingly, one view suggests that a supportive context is necessary to sustain the contribution of group work (Okwunnabua & Duryea, 1998). …

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