Preventing Juvenile Delinquency

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

Last week, like most Monctonian students, I returned to classes at university after holiday break. My return to university equated to settling into my new course schedule, studying with renewed vigor, and catching up with other students.

It was also marked by an interesting interview I had with the psychology professor who taught the introduction to psychology course that I had taken during the first semester to discuss the state of delinquency in New Brunswick and how delinquency should be handled in the future.

Delinquency being a societal problem that affects the well-being and security of society, it seemed an appropriate topic at the beginning of a new year, when emphasis is placed on looking to the past and seeking to ameliorate the future.

Said Bergheul, Ph.d, has a delinquency psychology laboratory at the Université de Moncton campus in Moncton, where he and psychology students and assistants research several areas of delinquency. Current study topics include delinquency and girls in NB, recessive delinquency (delinquents who continue to commit crimes after intervention), and schools and delinquency.

Dr. Bergheul, when asked about how delinquency should be handled, responds that the emphasis should be placed on prevention before problems get out of hand. Delinquency prevention programs offer many societal benefits and are economically sound as well. Effective prevention should start early ; at-risk youth should be identified at young ages and before the gravity of their situation increases.

As a part of a study on schools and delinquency, Dr. Bergheul and his team are developing a questionnaire that measures the effect having a sense of belonging to one’s school has on the chances of turning to delinquency. Previous studies have shown that youth that are implicated at and attached to their school are less likely to become delinquents; the questionnaire will serve as further proof of this phenomenon,which could serve as a means of identification of youth who need to be helped through delinquency intervention programs.

Delinquency intervention programs are multi-faceted and tailored to individuals. This custom-made approach is necessary as there are no typical situations. Sometimes, a program focuses on ameliorating a youth’s integration at school. Other times, a program will provide education and support for parents. It is important that programs focus on helping and not blaming and that at-risk groups such as single-parent families and unemployed new Canadians receive proper support in terms of basic services (e.g. childcare) as well.

Currently, delinquency in New Brunswick is low, says Dr. Bergheul, thanks to a variety of factors that include an aging population, salubrious living conditions and an ample amount of preventive delinquency intervention programs. New Brunswick’s main objectives for the future should be to evaluate and streamline existing prevention programs to maximize their efficiency and to identify and remedy possible factors that might increase delinquency.

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on January 22nd, 2011.

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