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). Through techniques such as modeling and behavioral rehearsal, offenders are taught strategies for improving their problem-solving abilities, moral reasoning skills, anger control, and interpersonal relationships (Borduin et al., 1995). Furthermore, it seems that a broad-based, skills-building approach has a pervasive effect; that is, it allows adolescents to make and preserve interpersonal relationships, to cope with constantly changing environments, and to gain and maintain self-esteem and an internal locus of control (Gilchrist, Schinke, & Maxwell, 1987).
In the area of skills training, the terms social skills and life-skills are sometimes used interchangeably; however, an important distinction can and should be made between the two terms. According to Darden, Gazda, et al. (1996), the term social skills differs from life-skills in that the term social skills is frequently applied to a relatively specific skill category or even a single skill, for example, "assertiveness or problem solving" or even "eye contact" (p. 134). Although the term life-skills can be used to discuss single behaviors, the term itself implies that there is a comprehensive set of skills required for effective living. Gazda's (1982) life-skills model represents a comprehensive, developmentally based approach to conceptualize the role played by life-skills. The comprehensiveness of this model is seen in the way Gazda, Childers, and Brooks (1987) defined life-skills, which, according to these authors, are "all of those skills and knowledge prerequisite to development of skills in addition to academic skills that are necessary for effective living" (p. 133). The basic assumption of this model is that individuals who are "deficient" in certain skills areas have never mastered all of the basic life-skills necessary to cope with the daily requirements of living; in some cases, the result is delinquent behaviors (Darden, Gazda, et al., 1996). Furthermore, Darden, Gazda, at al. believed
There are several well-defined areas of human development: psychosocial, physical-sexual, vocational, cognitive, ego, moral, and affective. Coping behaviors that are appropriate to age and stage can be determined from these areas. Each area comprises identifiable stages requiring mastery in order to progress from lower to advanced stages. (p. 136)
The implications of this quote are central to the life-skills approach we advocate in this article for juvenile delinquents. Specifically, a delinquent's actions are best conceptualized in terms of what may have been achieved at different developmental points in the youth's life across several life-skills areas. Adopting this perspective implies that the general aim of any intervention is to reinstate developmental growth in the juvenile delinquent.
According to Schinke and Gilchrist (1984), life-skills counseling is a cost-effective approach, which is grounded in theory and supported by empirical research, for helping young people gain personal and social competencies. They also argued that life-skills counseling equips young people to handle current crises, anticipate and therefore prevent future ones, and advance their mental and physical health. Increasingly, therapies that are multidimensional are used in various kinds of juvenile programs. These therapies are designed to change the feelings, behaviors, attitudes, values, and coping styles of delinquent youth to reduce the probability that they will commit additional crimes in the future (White, 1989). Gibbs, Potter, and Goldstein (1995) developed the EQUIP ("Equipping Youth to Help One Another") program, which incorporates much of Goldstein's material on interpersonal skills and anger management skills and also addresses social developmental delays and social cognitive distortions. Proponents of EQUIP and other broad-based skill intervention approaches are moving, philosophically, away from various psychiatrically oriented treatment models that focus primarily on diagnosis and uncovering childhood issues. Their shift is, instead, toward intervention models that focus on skills acquisition that results in behavioral change, social learning, and taking responsibility for one's choices. Simply stated, there is growing evidence to support the relevance of a life-skills approach to working with juvenile offenders.
Agee (1995) noted that effective assessment is a key component to providing successful treatment to a juvenile offender population. In this study, we examined the psychometric properties of a short life-skills development instrument specifically designed for use with juvenile offenders. According to Ginter (1999), all of the various life-skills development instruments constructed since 1984 to assess Gazda's model of life-skills measure four life-skills dimensions. On the basis of Brooks's (1984) work, we briefly define these dimensions (see Darden, Gazda, et al.'s, 1996, pages below for a more detailed description of each dimension).
1. Interpersonal Communication/Human Relations Skills (IC/HRS) are the skills necessary for effective communication, leading to ease in establishing relationships, small- and large-group and community membership and participation, and management of interpersonal intimacy. (pp. 136-137)
2. Problem-Solving/Decision-Making Skills (PS/DMS) are the skills necessary for information seeking, assessment and analysis, problem identification, solution implementation and evaluation, goal setting, time management, critical thinking, and conflict resolution. (p. 137)
3. Physical Fitness/Health Maintenance Skills (PF/HMS) are the skills necessary for motor development and coordination, nutritional maintenance, weight control, physical fitness, athletic participation, physiological aspects of sexuality, stress management, and leisure activity selection. (p. 138)
4.Identity Development/Purpose in Life Skills (ID/PILS) are the skills necessary for ongoing development of personal identity and emotional awareness, including self-monitoring, maintaining positive self-view, manipulating and accommodating to one's environment, clarifying values, sex role development, making meaning, making moral choices, and certain aspects of sexuality. (p. 138)
According to Ginter (1999), the developmental perspective inherent in these four dimensions provides firm support for individuals who work with juvenile delinquents.
Far from abstract notions of what should be areas of concern when working with clients, [a life-skills approach] provides developmental explanations as to "what is missing." Not only are the developmental tasks and their accompanying skills [that support a life-skills approach] supported by decades of research and theory, but [the life-skills] taxonomy enables us now to measure and quantify and fit developmentally based [interventions] to meet the specific needs of clients. (p. 199)
Seventy-five youths from an all-male detention center agreed to complete a life-skills measure specifically designed to be used with juvenile offenders as part of the routine evaluation at the center. (Youths in the center are in the state's custody.) All participants were informed of the study's intent and provided an opportunity to have questions answered and to indicate whether or not they wanted to participate. The mean age of the participants was 14.7 years (age range, 12-17 years). The racial and ethnic composition was 65% African American, 30% Caucasian, and 5% other. The average length of stay at the center is 1 month. Charges leading to participants' incarceration varied in severity (e.g., violation of probation, possession of marijuana, child molestation, armed robbery).
Data analysis was confined to two assessments: the life-skills assessment (i.e., Life-Skills Development Scale-Juvenile Form) and the Behavior Assessment System for Children: Self-Report of Personality-Adolescent Form. The latter measure was part of a battery of tests that is administered to each youth for research and programming purposes at the detention facility. The tests are administered during the first week the youth enters the facility.
Life-Skills Development Scale-Juvenile Form (LSDS-JF). The LSDS-JF was based on an earlier life-skills measure introduced by Gazda, Ginter, and Darden (1990; i.e., the Life-Skills Development Scale--Adolescent Form; LSDS-B). The LSDS-B is a 65-item instrument and represents one of several measures based on Gazda's model of life-skills. This self-report instrument is divided into four subscales, each one measuring one of the four developmental dimensions defined earlier. The 65 items that make up the LSDS-B were identified through a series of studies, which began with Brooks's (1984) study. Brooks's study helped to establish the 65 items' validity (along with other items) through a three-round Delphi survey "in which Brooks obtained a consensus from the panelists ... as to the basic life-skills common (generic) to all age groups (i.e., childhood, adolescence, and adulthood) and descriptors for each of these" (see Darden, Gazda, et al., 1996, p. 135). The panel comprised developmental specialists. Brooks's 1984 study resulted in a life-skills taxonomy based on 305 descriptors (Darden, Gazda, et al., 1996; Darden, Ginter, & Gazda, 1996). From the 305 descriptors isolated by Brooks (1984) and using only those pertaining to adolescence, Darden conducted several studies to establish the reliability and validity of the final 65 items of the LSDS-B (Darden, 1990a; Darden, 1990b; Darden, 1991; Darden, Ginter, et al., 1996).
A pilot study using the LSDS-B with a group of incarcerated juvenile delinquents in the stone detention center in which we conducted our study revealed several limitations for the LSDS-B in relation to this population. Limitations included the following: Much of the language used in the LSDS-B exceeded the reading level of this population; some of the wording of the items was incongruent with the vernacular of the juvenile delinquent culture; and the LSDS-B contained too many items for this population. Several participants in the pilot study commented about the LSDS-B's length ("too long") and in some cases expressed a sense of fatigue and inability to maintain focus. (It is not unusual for incarcerated youths to have been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which might account for the difficulty expressed by some of the participants.) Because of these limitations, a shorter version of the LSDS-B was constructed and labeled the "LSDS-JF" because of its intended use. Furthermore, it was assumed that facilities interested in incorporating a life-skills approach would find a shorter life-skills assessment measure more appropriate to add to an already existing battery than a relatively long assessment would be.
Of the limitations cited, the reading level of the LSDS-B was a major concern. The 65 items of the LSDS-B were written for individuals with at least an eighth-grade reading level (Darden, 1991). After consulting with the teachers and counselors at the youth detention center, it was decided that a scale written for individuals with a fifth-grade reading level would be more appropriate for this juvenile delinquent population. According to a study by Sinatra, Hirshoren, and Primavera (1987), adjudicated adolescents tend to read at between a 5.4 and a 7.1 grade level. The readability score of the instrument was evaluated with the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Score, which is used to rate text on a United States grade school level. It is accessible through WordPerfect and calculates a score on the basis of the readability of the document. The score for the present instrument (LSDS-JF) was 5.2. The Flesch Reading Ease score, which rates text on a 100-point scale, was also obtained. The higher the instrument's score, the easier it is to understand. The present instrument was scored 77.7 on this scale, reflecting relative ease of readability.
Thus, the LSDS-JF was derived by deleting the items that participants in the pilot study reported having great difficulty understanding and by simplifying the wording of other items. For example, on the original scale, one of the items read, "I exercise regularly to relieve stress and improve my sense of well-being." This item was changed to "I exercise to improve myself' on the LSDS-JF. The final scale contained 30 items: 8 items for Interpersonal Communication/Human Relations Skills scale, 7 items for Problem-Solving/Decision-Making Skills scale, 7 items for Physical Fitness/Health Maintenance Skills scale, and 8 items for Identity Development/Purpose in Life Skills scale. With fewer items to measure each life-skills dimension, an effort was made to have a relatively diverse set of items for each dimension because each dimension encompasses an array of related but distinct skills. Finally, the LSDS-JF uses a 4-point rating scale (1 = completely agree, 2 = mostly agree, 3 = mostly disagree, 4 = completely disagree). Items reflecting skill attainment ("I feel like I am an important part of my family") are reversed scored, and items reflecting low skill attainment ("When something goes wrong, it is usually somebody else' fault") are not changed; thus, higher scores reflect higher levels of skills maturation.
Behavior Assessment System for Children: Self-Report of Personality--Adolescent Form (BASC). The BASC (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 1992) is a 186-item self-report scale that consists of 14 subscales: 10 clinical subscales and 4 adaptive subscales. The scale also provides four composite scores: School Maladjustment, Clinical Maladjustment, Personal Adjustment, and Emotional Symptoms. The BASC measures personality and emotional/psychological functioning and health in adolescents ages 12-18 years. The total standardization sample for this version of the BASC included 4,448 male and female adolescents from throughout the United States and Canada. Ethnic groups included African American (16%; n = 710), Hispanic (8%; n = 335), White (73%; n = 3,240), and Other (4%; n = 163). Internal consistency coefficients for each subscale averaged (median) about .80, and test--retest reliability coefficients averaged .76 (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 1992). Validity of the BASC was established through factor analysis, comparison with scales based on expert judgment, correlations with other instruments (i.e., Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, Achenbach's Youth Self-Report, Behavior Rating Profile, Children's Personality Questionnaire), and profiles of clinical groups. On the basis of these studies, one may conclude that the adolescent form of the BASC has good construct validity (see Reynolds & Kamphaus, 1992).
Data collected on the BASC and the LSDS-JF served three general aims. First, data collection allowed the life-skills measure to be compared with a measure that is used extensively with the population of interest, allowing professionals who are familiar with the BASC to better ascertain the merits of the LSDS-JF. Second, the BASC allowed for directional hypotheses to be established. Because a guiding assumption of the life-skills approach is that the measure assesses developmentally based skills that are required for effective, living, we hypothesized that all the scales on the life-skills measure would correlate negatively with the BASC's clinical scales and three of its composite scales (i.e., School Maladjustment, Clinical Maladjustment, Emotional Symptoms). We also hypothesized that the life-skills measure would correlate positively with the BASC's Adaptive scales and one Composite scale (i.e., Personal Adjustment). Such a pattern of relationships would be expected if the LSDS-JF were a valid measure of life-skills. Third, data collection would also provide for measures of reliability for tile LSDS-JF.
Cronbach alpha correlation coefficients were calculated on the four individual subscales and on the total 30-item scale. The total alpha level was .83. The alpha levels on the subscales were as follows: Interpersonal Communication/Human Relations Skills, .76; Problem Solving/Decision-Making Skills, .59; Physical Fitness/ Health Maintenance Skills, .53; and Identity Development/Purpose in Life Skills, .59. Significant intercorrelations among the subscales of the LSDS-JF ranged from low (.28) to moderate (.65, as reported in Table 1). All of the correlations of the subscales to total score ranged from moderate (.64) to high (.86).
TABLE 1 Intercorrelations Among Subscales of the LSDS-JF and Correlation Coefficients for Subscales of the LSDS-JF and the BASC LSDS-JF 1 2 3 1. IC/HRS -- 2. PS/DMS .34(**) -- 3. PF/HMS .31(**) .28(*) -- 4. ID/PILS .65(**) .39(**) .55(**) 5. LSDS-JF Total .79(**) .64(**) .70(**) BASC Clinical Scales 6. Attitude to School -.33(**) .03 -.39(**) 7. Attitude to Teachers -.46(**) -.11 -.42(**) 8. Sensation Seeking -.18 -.17 -.34(**) 9. Atypically -.38(**) -.10 -.17 10. Locus of Control .05 -.17 -.09 11. Somatization -.32(**) -.34(**) -.28(*) 12. Social Stress -.62(**) -.32(**) -.32(**) 13. Anxiety -.37(**) -.28(*) -.17 14. Depression -.60(**) -.27(*) -.33(**) 15. Sense of Inadequacy -.61(**) -.40(**) -.24(*) Adaptive Scales 16. Relations with Parents .56(**) .15 .43(**) 17. Interpersonal Relations .58(**) .10 .19 18. Self-Esteem .57(**) .37(**) .35(**) 19. Self-Reliance .31(**) .03 .03 Composite Scales 20. School Maladjustment -.43(**) -.09 -.50(**) 21. Clinical Maladjustment -.57(**) -.35(**) -.31(**) 22. Personal Adjustment .69(**) .21 .34(**) 23. Emotional Symptoms -.69(**) -.36(**) -.31(**) LSDS-JF 4 5 1. IC/HRS 2. PS/DMS 3. PF/HMS 4. ID/PILS -- 5. LSDS-JF Total .86(**) -- BASC Clinical Scales 6. Attitude to School -.39(**) -.37(**) 7. Attitude to Teachers -.48(**) -.37(**) 8. Sensation Seeking -.21 -.30(**) 9. Atypically -.25(*) -.32(**) 10. Locus of Control .08 -.05 11. Somatization -.26(*) -.40(**) 12. Social Stress -.56(**) -.63(**) 13. Anxiety -.33(**) -.38(**) 14. Depression -.52(**) -.59(**) 15. Sense of Inadequacy -.42(**) -.57(**) Adaptive Scales 16. Relations with Parents .46(**) .57(**) 17. Interpersonal Relations .43(**) .45(**) 18. Self-Esteem .64(**) .67(**) 19. Self-Reliance .33(**) .25(**) Composite Scales 20. School Maladjustment -.47(**) -.51(**) 21. Clinical Maladjustment -.48(**) -.58(**) 22. Personal Adjustment .62(**) .65(**) 23. Emotional Symptoms -.59(**) -.68(**) Note. LSDS-JF = Life Skills Development Scale-Juvenile Form; BASC = Behavioral Assessment System for Children: Self-Report of Personality-Adolescent Form; IC/HRS = Interpersonal Communication/ Human Relations Skills; PS/DMS = Problem-Solving/Decision-Making Skills; PF/HMS = Physical Fitness/Health Maintenance Skills; ID/PILS = Identity Development/Purpose in Life Skills. (*) p < .025 (one tail). (**) p < .005 (one tail).
Each of the four LSDS-JF scales and the total LSDS-JF score were also correlated with the BASC subscales. Thirty-seven of the 50 comparisons on the clinical scales were significant negative correlations. That is, there was an inverse relationship between the adaptive life-skills as measured by the LSDS-JF and the clinical scales of the BASC. Fifteen of the 20 comparisons on the adaptive scales were significant positive correlations. Eighteen of the 20 composite scores were significantly related to the LSDS-JF scales in the expected direction. These findings provide support for the construct validity for the LSDS-JF. For example, because the LSDS-JF was designed to assess the life-skills strengths of the youth, one would expect positive correlations between its subscales and the adaptive scales on the BASC, and that is what we found.
Our results provide support for the validity of the LSDS-JS. Furthermore, the low to moderate correlations among subscales suggest that the subscales are measuring somewhat distinct but related constructs. The alpha levels of some of the subscales were relatively low, which might simply have been because we used seven to eight items to measure each life-skills dimension. Another possible explanation is that the relatively low alpha levels were the result of our efforts to have a representative group of items per dimension. Based on the work of Brooks (1984), it seems that each of the four life-skills dimensions encompasses a diverse set of related skills. According to Anastasi (1968), the approach taken to have a representative sample might affect internal consistency more than construct validity; that is, when attention is given to adequacy of coverage (avoiding excessive concentration of items for certain skill areas within a dimension), one would expect measures of internal consistency to be lower than one would normally find. On the basis of the latter explanation, we suggest that users of the LSDS-JF review the ratings of individual items and use those items to structure an intervention plan rather than the total score, which is valid but tells one less about what particular types of skills within a dimension require strengthening.
The LSDS-JF correlated as expected with subscales from the BASC. Youth who received high scores on the Adaptive scales also tended to receive high scores on the four life-skills dimensions. For example, youth who received high scores on the Self-Esteem subscale on the BASC tended to receive high scores on the Identity Development/Purpose in Life Skills scale of the LSDS-JF. Similarly, those who received high scores on the Clinical scales, indicating some psychological difficulties, had lower scores on life-skills dimensions. One illustration of this is that participants with problems on the Social Stress subscale of the BASC also tended to score poorly on the Interpersonal Communication/Human Relations Skills subscale of the LSDS-JF.
Instrument development related to adolescents often focuses on psychopathology, negative personality traits, or counterproductive behaviors. The LSDS-JF is designed to assess requisite life-skills, offering the possibility of shifting the treatment focus from the maladaptive to the adaptive, from deficiencies to strengths. Specifically, in working with juveniles, interventions should be discussed with them in terms of building on existing skills rather than assuming that such skills are nonexistent and that a "skills void" must be filled. The LSDS-JF reflects what Gresham and MacMillan (1997) have called "social competence." Social competence is a "multidimensional construct that includes adaptive behavior, social skills, and peer relationship variables" (p. 381). Relevant to the approach we advocate is Gresham and Elliott's (1993) notion of social validity, which can be interpreted to mean that increasing social competence is a valid predictor of whether delinquent behaviors will continue to occur in the social world of the incarcerated delinquent offender.
In summary, the LSDS-JF provides a means for assessing life-skills in juvenile offenders by professionals who are involved in their rehabilitation. The comprehensiveness and brevity of the scale makes it ideal for use in juvenile detention facilities, group homes, and residential treatment programs as a starting point in designing individualized training plans for use with this population. Finally, keeping in mind the limitations discussed earlier, the LSDS-JF could be used as a pre- and posttest for life-skills training: as long as its user considers both the total score for a life-skills dimension and the changes that have occurred on the various items within that dimension.
Further research is recommended to explore the psychometric properties of the LSDS-JF in light of our findings. Also, comparing juvenile offenders' scores on the scale with a sample of same-age peers in a regular school setting will provide information regarding the discriminant validity of the instrument. Future studies should validate the instrument's usefulness with females because a growing number of females are being adjudicated delinquent through the juvenile court system.
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Tara E. Kadish is a doctoral candidate, Brian A. Glaser is an associate professor, Georgia B. Calhoun is an assistant professor, and Earl J. Ginter is a professor, all affiliated with the College of Education at The University of Georgia, Athens. Correspondence regarding this article should be sent to Brian A. Glaser, The University of Georgia, College of Education, Department of Counseling and Human Development Services, 402 Aderhold Hall, Athens, GA 30602.…
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Publication information: Article title: Identifying the Developmental Strengths of Juvenile Offenders: Assessing Four Life-Skills Dimensions. Contributors: Kadish, Tara E. - Author, Glaser, Brian A. - Author, Calhoun, Georgia B. - Author, Ginter, Earl J. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling. Volume: 21. Issue: 2 Publication date: April 2001. Page number: 85. © 2007 American Counseling Association. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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