Identifying the Developmental Strengths of Juvenile Offenders: Assessing Four Life-Skills Dimensions

By Kadish, Tara E.; Glaser, Brian A. et al. | Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Identifying the Developmental Strengths of Juvenile Offenders: Assessing Four Life-Skills Dimensions


Kadish, Tara E., Glaser, Brian A., Calhoun, Georgia B., Ginter, Earl J., Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling


The authors describe the development of the Life-Skills Development Scale-Juvenile Form, a brief self-report instrument for assessing the life-skills development of juvenile offenders. Reliability and validity findings are presented, implications for treatment planning are provided, and recommendations for further research are discussed.

Juvenile delinquency is a problem that continues to plague society. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reports that in 1996, law enforcement agencies in the United States made 2.9 million arrests of persons under the age of 18 (U.S. Department of Justice, 1997). According to this report, 2 million of these youth became involved in the juvenile court system. A juvenile offender is commonly defined as a child or adolescent under the age of 18 who is caught and convicted of committing an illegal act. The nature of these crimes encompasses a wide range of offenses involving crimes such as shoplifting, drug or alcohol violations, aggravated battery, and murder. Depending on the nature and severity of the crime and the youth's criminal history, those who are adjudicated delinquent may be placed on probation, required to attend counseling, or incarcerated in a youth detention facility.

It has long been recognized that one of the contributors to the occurrence of delinquency is a failure of life-skills maturation; that is, requisite skills for effective living are not achieved, resulting in conduct that is outside a community's code of acceptable behavior and established laws (e.g., Darden, Gazda, & Ginter, 1996; Freedman, Rosenthal, Donahoe, Schlundt, & McFall, 1978). Failure to fully develop life-skills in one or more of the areas that constitute human development can occur for many reasons, including a history of learning difficulties (e.g., learning disability, attention deficit disorder) or problematic learning environments (e.g., lack of appropriate role models). On the basis of this explanation, one may assume that interventions designed to strengthen existing skills could prevent future delinquency from occurring. It is our contention that such an intervention approach can be achieved with a three-step process: assessment of existing skills, creation of a skills-strengthening intervention plan based on assessment results, and implementation of the skills-strengthening intervention (plan implementation). The intervention step is accomplished through education; practice of skills; feedback concerning skill mastery; and modification of the intervention plan, if necessary (Darden, Gazda, et al., 1996; Ginter, 1999).

A general body of existing professional literature supports a life-skills approach to working with juvenile offenders. One aspect of life-skills that has received extensive treatment in the literature pertains to teaching social skills (e.g., Henggeler, 1989). The use of social skills training with juvenile offenders typically reflects the assumption that they are deficient in social skills. The acquisition of such skills is directed at reducing problematic interactions with others (Henggeler, 1989). Professionals who attempt to teach such skills focus on reducing the juvenile offender's problematic interactions with others. Other factors have been positively affected through skills training. For example, Long and Sherer (1984) found that although self-esteem did not seem to be influenced, locus of control was significantly increased in offenders who participated in training and discussion groups (i.e., locus of control shifted from external to internal locus of control, thus helping the offender to better control behavior).

Some authors have adopted a broad-based approach to skills training by simultaneously considering an array of skills during the planning and intervention phase, such as interpersonal communications (initiating conversations, and developing and maintaining relationships), developing self-control, stress management, anger management, relaxation skills, goal setting, decision making, and proper health maintenance (Danish, Galambos, & Laquatra, 1983). …

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