Assessing Risks and Needs in Youths: Fourth RETA Focus Group Session

RETA LogoAs professionals working with young children and adults, it is our responsibility to update our skills so that we are at our best for our learners. Admittedly, this drive to learn may be prompted by a situation, an encounter, or the possibility of being put in an unfamiliar place; and consequently, we seek out repositories of knowledge, which may be in the form of an esteemed colleague. One such opportunity presented itself on the December 29, 2016, when the Register of Educational Therapists (Asia) (RETA), a professional register initiated by the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS), had the privilege of hosting Mr. Justin Peter Zhou as the special guest speaker for the 4th RETA Focus Group Session. Justin has more than a decade of experience in the social service sector and has worked with numerous Voluntary Welfare Organizations and schools in providing counselling, workshops, and experiential learning programs. An experienced youth worker, his passion is to help the marginalized population and at-risk youths in the community. He currently heads a specialist youth center and has steered numerous inter-agency initiatives in youth development.

Kicking off the sharing session, participants were taken through an introduction on understanding youth delinquency and the guidelines for assessing the risks for youth delinquency. We were then exposed to a case study about a teenage boy who was arrested for stealing a bicycle. As a first activity in understanding this case study, participants were asked to brainstorm reasons for the youth’s delinquent act that would help them uncover the root cause. This activity (see the example and figure below) was crucial in enlightening and broadening the perspectives and understanding of all participants with regards to delinquency in youth. By the end of part one, it was clear to all of us that when a youth commits a crime or behaves in a socially unacceptable manner, the reason is always more than what meets the eye. 

Activity 1 Graphic Image 1

In the second part of the case study, we were introduced to eight criminogenic needs, which are risk factors that determine the possibility of an offender’s recidivism. After the explanation of each risk factor, we were guided through the teenager’s case study to determine whether or not the teenager displayed criminogenic traits. The eight criminogenic needs are as follows:

  1. Having a history of conduct disorder: This factor is typically checked off if the youth has had prior adjudications or if the case history bears evidence of earlier conduct problems.
  2. Current school or employment problems: This factor is typically checked off if the youth is displaying serious behavioral or achievement problems such as consistently receiving failing grades in school, a history of suspension or expulsion, or if they are currently out of school, unemployed, and not seeking employment.
  3. Delinquent friends: This factor is typically checked off if the youth has friends who have a history of delinquency or are currently exhibiting conduct problems.
  4. Alcohol/drug problems: This factor is typically checked off if the youth is frequently or chronically using drugs or alcohol—that in turn negatively affects other aspects of his or her life.
  5. Negative leisure/recreation: This factor is typically checked off if the youth isn’t engaged in organized or otherwise positive leisure time or activities.
  6. Personality/behavioral issues: This factor is typically checked off if the youth displayed serious personality or behavior problems.
  7. Family circumstances/inconsistent parenting: This factor is typically checked off if the youth has had negligent, inconsistent, inappropriate, and inadequate parenting or supervision.
  8. Display of negative attitudes/orientation: This factor is typically checked off if the youth predominantly exhibits pro-criminal or anti-social attitude.

This sort of brief assessment allows counselors to ascertain the level of risk among offenders and present suitable recommendations to case workers for follow up. If an offender were to be identified as “high risk,” he or she would possibly be required to undergo a more comprehensive assessment that would be followed up with a problem-specific intervention. Other than the criminogenic risk factors stated above, we were also informed about a number of non-criminogenic factors, such as mental health issues, parent marital conflict, sexual abuse and trauma, etc., that could play a significant part in a youth’s difficulties. This activity was quite crucial for the audience of the session, which was comprised mainly of parents and educators, since an awareness of the above mentioned traits aids to identify youths at risk and take steps toward appropriate rehabilitation.

As educators of children with special education needs, we come across a fair number of youth who have social-emotional difficulties, and this session taught us many useful lessons. The detailed discussions in this session allowed for a deeper understanding of the complex psychology of teenagers and risk factors that may contribute to delinquent behavior. It also reinforced the importance of building rapport with the students we teach; as a strong rapport with the students would allow educators to determine if a student’s behavior is truly a hallmark of delinquent behavior, or something less serious. The first step in rehabilitation is to gain a complete understanding of the problem, and providing the youth at risk with a safe, non-judgmental environment to express themselves allows for the accurate and speedy diagnosis of the above-mentioned traits. The session was indeed an enriching way to end the year!DAS Logo

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