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C H I L D R E N ’S




Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

1 9 4 9
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

MODERN MEDICAL SCIENCE has long since developed
beyond the stage in which only the surface indications,
or symptoms, of an ailment are treated. The physician
o f today probes for the underlying cause of disease.
Manifestation of the many complex forms of social
maladjustment among children and youth which has been
stamped with the term, “ juvenile delinquency,” should
be recognized as a symptom of social and emotional ill­
ness. We can attack it effectively only by searching out
and correcting the basic flaws in adult social practices
which leave the younger generation a prey to the social
illnesses that result in what is called juvenile delinquency.
This booklet offers guidance in observing and in under­
standing the many factors that lie behind the antisocial
behavior o f children. It is built on the study and experi­
ence of child-welfare workers, mental-hygiene workers,
social scientists and many other workers trained in observ­
ing the growth and development of children. It should
prove of value to those concerned with improving the
chances o f youth for better social adjustment.

Federal Security Administrator.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Th ree

B o y s in

T r o u b l e ....................................... .. ...........................................................................

P age

Nature and extent o f juvenile delinquency.................................................
What makes a child delinquent?.................................................................................
The role o f the fam ily........................................................................
• Teaching the rules o f the game........................................................................................ 8
Early conflicts..........................................................................................
When emotional needs are unm et.................................................................................. 10
The role o f the school..............................................................................................
The school a potent fo rce ................................................ ............................... ”
Truancy.............. .......................................................................................................
The neighborhood.......................................................
The gang...................................................... .!.*.*.*.
*. *; ; : ; : : ;
Delinquency areas..................................................................................................
Delinquency in rural districts.................................................................................
Juvenile delinquency in postwar years......................................................................
E v e r y o n e ’ s C o n c e r n ......................................................................
Preservation o f family life......................................................................................
Parent education.........................................................................
Family incom e...............................................................................[ .........................
Families in need o f assistance.........................................................! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
Toward economic security................................................................
Housing............................................................................................................................... 24
The role o f the church in prevention.........................................................................
The role o f the school in prevention................
E very

C h il d


::::::::::::::::::::::::::: If

Spotting problems early................................................................................. p * •
Community participation............................
Protection from harmful community influences....................
Recreation and leisure-time agencies........... .............
Recreation as prevention............................................................
Recreation as treatment......................................................................... ! ! ! ! ! " * " *
Group leaders.................................................... .................................! ! ! ! ! ! ..........
Child-guidance clinics............................................................................................
Social services.............................................................................
What might have been don e...........................................................................................33
Expansion o f child-welfare service........................................
Unevenness o f service......................................................... ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! " ! * * *
Early diagnosis and treatment................................................... * ’ [;*
Toward an adequate program.....................................................................: . . . .
The police............................. .................................................................. _
The juvenile court..............................................................
Juvenile court in practice...................................................................
D etention.................................................................................... ! ! . " ! ! ! ] ................
Social and psychiatric investigation.......................
g earing -.............................................................................................................................. 41
................... •••••••••••••#•••••
Treatment.................................................... ................ * ..................... ¿ ;
Foster-home care.............................................................................................................
Institutional care.................................................... ........................................... ##
Coordinated community forces......................................................

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


Understanding Juvenile

W hat Causes Delinquency?

Three Boys
In Trouble
Jimmy Smith is in trouble again. He and Tom Kelly and that Taglione
kid. They were caught stripping tires off a sports roadster.
They “ borrowed” it at first just to go for a ride. That was Jim m y ’s idea
when he spotted the key in the ignition. Served the fool owner right for
leaving it there. The stripping came later— after they had stopped off at
the chili parlor for a hamburger and Peter Taglione had bragged to the big
fellows about how they’d done 70 and whipped around corners and scared
the women pop-eyed. Jimmy was going to drive the car back as soon as
he hit the jack pot on the slot machine. The big fellows thought that was
goofy. Supposing the cops spotted him on the way back? No use taking
chances. White-walled tires were worth plenty. Knifey Joe knew a guy
who would buy them. He’d show the kids where— for a cut on the deal.
Jimmy was a little leary of the idea at first. Knifey sneered, “ G’wan home,
punk. Don’t be a sucker.” Jimmy was convinced.
But the cops pulled up and nabbed Jimmy before he even had the first tire
off. Peter ran, but he didn’t get far with that gimpy leg. Tommy stood
still and gave himself up without a struggle. Seemed like, for a second,
he was glad to get caught.

It looks like the “ reform school” for Jimmy.
nile court. And after the “ reform school” . . .

It’s his fourth time in juve­

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

Jimmy’s a handsome lad, going on 16 and big for his age. He might
have made a good tackle on the high-school team. That is, if he had
ever reached high school. Jimmy quit grammar school in the eighth grade.
It was against the law, but the school was glad to he rid of him . He only
made trouble, anyway.
Jimmy had hated school from the day he began, and he started to play
hookey almost at once. Not that he wasn’t hnght. There wasn’t a smarter
kid in the neighborhood. But for such a restless, active boy sitting in a
seat all day reading about lambs and fairies and trips to the country was
more than he could stand. And later having to learn about the inches of
rainfall in Tibet and how many gallons of paint it takes to paint a house!
Heck, who wanted to know about that anyway? His old man had once
been a painter and where had it gotten him? A bad lung, out of work,
drunk most of the time.
Besides, Jimmy never liked his teachers. They were always scolding
him. There was one in the fifth grade who was nice. She was young and
seemed to understand him. She made him monitor and let him help her
with the blackboard. When she found him playing with an airplane model
he had made instead of studying his grammar, she didn’t holler and send
him to the principal. She kept him after school and talked to him about
airplanes and how he could join a group at the church where the boys
learned to make different kinds o f models. He didn’t say anything but he
knew he wouldn’t go. Only sissies went there— and besides the stuff cost
money. Jimmy didn’t skip school once that year.
But that teacher was transferred, and the next one was a sourpuss. His
big brother, Jack, whom Jimmy adored, had been in her room long ago and
had made her life miserable. When Jimmy started “ acting up” in class,
she said he was no good and would end up in the penitentiary just like his
brother. Jimmy quit after that and wouldn’t go back until the truant
officer found him one day hanging around the railroad tracks and took him
to “ Juvenile.” They kept him in the detention home 2 weeks. A lot of
doctors asked him fool questions and made him play with blocks. They
told the judge he needed supervision and something they called “ a good
relationship.” After that, the probation officer came around once in a
while to check up on how he was behaving and warn him to be “ a good boy.”
After Jimmy left school, he bummed around a bit. Made an occasional
dollar delivering orders for the corner liquor store and directing guys to
Mamie’s j oint. Sometimes he would pick up a good tip on the races hanging
around the back o f the cigar store.
Jimmy ran away to another city and tried to enlist in the army, but the
recruiting officer found out how young he was and wouldn’ t accept him. He
hung around the strange city, sleeping in the subway and snitching fo o d
But the police picked him up one day, and the Travelers’ Aid arranged a ticket
back home. After that, he was itching more than ever “ to do something,”
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

What Causes Delinquency?


but he didn’t know what. He got into more fights all the time. It was shortly
after this that he and Tommy and Pete stole the roadster.
The probation officer said it was all Jimmy’s father’s fault. Getting drunk
on pay days— when he was working— and beating up his wife and kids.
Jimmy had hated his “ old man” ever since he could remember. His first
memory was of getting kicked by his father.
Some people were inclined to blame the mother. She was a poor house­
keeper and didn’t budget the family income wisely. (But how can you keep
a good house with rooms so small and dark that you gave up trying, with
your back always ailing, and a new baby every year, and never enough
money to stretch out the week?) The neighbors whispered that sometimes
Mrs. Smith took a swig herself— but you know how neighbors talk. They
said she didn’t look after her kids right. There was Lola, only 17, with her
high heels and mascara, running around with the boys since she started gram­
mar school. Lately she’d been working as a waitress at the tavern near the
steel plant. She told Mrs. Brown’s girl that she spent last week end with
her boy friend in a hotel.
In court Mrs. Smith pleaded that her Jimmy wasn’t a bad boy. It was
that terrible neighborhood they lived in and the kids he ran around with
from the time he was small. When he was only 5 they taught him to
snitch bananas from the fruit man and take stuff from the 10-cent store.
They’d knock over a push cart or strip brass from an abandoned building.
He really didn’t do these things to be mean. It was just that he had a lot
of energy and no place to use it right. When he started to “ get into real
trouble,” his mother would scold him and pray over him. Sometimes she
would tell his father. Mostly, though, she hated to do that because he’d
beat Jimmy up so bad. She didn’t know what to do. It had been the same
way with Jack. And Lola. For all she tried, nothing seemed to go right
with her kids.

When he was a little boy everyone thought Tom Kelly would grow up
to be a doctor or lawyer. He was such a serious little fellow, so quiet and
polite and so thoughtful of his mother. Tom came from decent folk. His
father was a streetcar conductor, who worked nights, never drank or ran
around. When he came home after work, he would go to sleep. In the
afternoon when he woke up, he would read the paper and maybe listen to
the news or the ball game over the radio. Then he’d go to work again.
Mrs. Kelly took pride in their home, which was almost paid for— kept it
neat as a pin. She had only the two children— Tom and his brother Bud,
Bud was born when Tom was 2. Everyone fussed over Bud because he
was such a cute baby, always gurgling, with deep dimples and laughing
eyes. Even Mrs. Kelly seemed to prefer Bud, though she would deny it
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

vigorously if you asked her. But she was always showing Bud off when
people came to visit and quoting the smart things he said. Tom would
look on with that serious expression o f his.
When Tom was 5 he began to wet the bed. Mrs. Kelly didn’t know what
was wrong with him. She would spank him for the bed wetting, but it didn’t
do any good. Finally, she took him to a doctor. But he couldn’t find
anything wrong with the boy. Once when Tom was about 8 his mother
discovered that he had been stealing pennies from her purse to buy himself
candy. She tried to shame him by pointing out that Buddy would never do
a thing like that. When Tom was 12, the bed wetting stopped, but he still
was a nervous boy.
He bit his nails and had a habit of sometimes jerking
his head back. And he would toss in his sleep and grind his teeth.
Tom never had trouble at school, but neither did he receive honors as
Buddy did. Buddy was president of his class and captain of the baseball
team. He took the lead in the school play, and when he was awarded a
scholarship for his art work, his mother was the happiest woman in the world.
Tom had no close friends and played mostly by himself. He would have
wonderful daydreams of triumphing over Buddy, over his schoolmates, over
everybody. First he would dream that he was the fastest cross-country pilot,
breaking all records. Then he was a G-man, tracking down counterfeiters,
becoming a hero. W ould his mother be surprised when she saw his picture
in the paper!
Last summer Mrs. Kelly sent Tom to camp. She thought it would build
him up and make a real boy” of him. He wasn’t very happy at camp and
hoped his mother wouldn’t make him go back next year. Maybe it was
because he couldn’t do any of the things as well as the other boys— like swim
or box or pitch horseshoes. Once when two of the boys were teasing bim
and called him a sissy, Jimmy Smith came by/and chased them away! He
said he’d knock their tops off if they didn’t leave Tommy alone. Jimmy
was only a year older than Tom, but he sure was tough. Tom heard one
boy say Jimmy had a “ record” and that the probation officer sent him to
camp to reform him. But Tom didn’t care. He thought Jimmy was great
and hoped they could be pals. Jimmy didn’t like the place either. Too
many rules, he said.

Peter Taglione was a runt. He looked like 10 though he was really 14.
Something must have happened to him when he was small. Maybe it was
the fits he used to have as a child, or the auto accident when he was 8,
which left him with 10 stitches in his head and one leg shorter than the
other. Peter couldn t learn so well in school either, and had to be in the
“ dummy room.”
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

What Causes Delinquency?


Peterjs mother worked as a charwoman in a downtown hotel. She tried
to be good to Peter— poor, crippled thing. But earning a living for three
small children didn’t afford her much time to pamper them. The father,
they say, died in an insane asylum. He had been a mean one. He would
scream at the children and beat them. They would hide when they’d hear
him coming. They say that right before he was sent away he ran after
Peter’s sister with a butcher knife.
Peter liked to watch the other children play duck-on-the-rock and copsand-robbers. Sometimes when he was by himself, he’d play he was “ Little
Caesar.” “ S tick ’em u p !” “ M o w ’em dow n!” “ Bang! Bang!”
Once Peter found a pocketbook with $5 in it. He bought candy for all
the kids in the neighborhood and was the hero o f the day. Peter liked to
run errands for the big fellows on the block. For that they let him hang
around while they sat on the curb and exchanged storied of their exploits.
As he listened, he felt certain that some day he would be a tough guy too—
like Jimmy Smith. Maybe some day even like Knifey Joe.

Jimmy and Tom and Peter are but three of the thousands of children
who pass through the juvenile courts every year and are labeled “ delinquent.”
Of these the boys, for the most part, are charged with “ stealing,” and “ acts
o f carelessness and mischief” ; the girls— and about one out of every five
children brought before the juvenile court is a girl— with “ running away,”
“ being ungovernable,” and “ sex offenses.” In general, these children range
in age from 10 to 18 years, though occasionally a boy or girl younger than
10 or older than 18 is referred to the court. The largest number o f children
are in the 14- to 16-year age group.
In addition there are thousands of difficult children who never get into
court, though they may present behavior problems and personality dis­
turbances quite as serious as those of the children who do. Some of these
maladjusted children are handled by attendance officers or visiting teachers
at schools, some by child-guidance clinics or social agencies, some by the
police without referral to court. Others go unnoticed until too late. Some
children may escape a court experience because their families can obtain
special care for them; children whose families do not have resources, on the
other hand, are more likely to be referred to court or to be sent to institu­
tions when they develop serious behavior problems. To a large degree it is
a matter of chance and of family or social resources whether the child is
brought to court or spared that ordeal.
Whatever the exact figures of the extent of juvenile delinquency, we know
that every year thousands of American youngsters “ get into trouble.” We
824775— 49-----------2
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

cannot say with certainty whether juvenile delinquency is increasing or de­
creasing throughout the country as a whole because o f the absence of reliable
and comprehensive data over a period of years. Such statistics as are
available have shown no alarming tendency to increased “ juvenile crime,”
as newspapers perennially claim.
Our Nation may face the prospect o f a rich harvest of juvenile misconduct
if we fail to take care o f our children. And the delinquent of today may
be the criminal of tomorrow. The material waste of crime and delinquency
is appalling; it is estimated that it amounts to billions of dollars every year.
And the material waste is, of course, nothing as compared with the moral
and social waste.
As parents and teachers— as citizens— we are deeply concerned with pre­
venting juvenile delinquency and eradicating its roots if we can. But before
we can cope with the problem effectively, we must examine the seeds out
of which it sprouts and the soil that nurtures it.

What causes juvenile delinquency and what can we do to prevent it?
Why does one boy succumb to the temptations of an unlocked car or un­
protected goods and another ignore them? The delinquent act itself is no
clue. Jimmy, Tommy, and Peter were involved in the same offense; yet,
as we saw, their backgrounds and their physical and mental make-ups were
quite different.
We know that most o f the delinquents who come before the courts are
underprivileged children from impoverished, overcrowded homes in deteri­
orated neighborhoods where demoralizing conditions, such as low-grade
poolrooms and taverns, cheap dance halls, gambling “ joints,” and houses
of prostitution are rampant. Many of these children run about in gangs
and have learned from others in the neighborhood how to steal a car or rob
a drunk. Is the cause, then, poverty? Slum conditions? Bad compan­
ions? Then why is not everyone who has lived in slums delinquent?
Many delinquents are malnourished and undersized. Many suffer from
physical defects. Many seem dull and are retarded in school. Is delin­
quency then caused by physical or mental deficiency? But there are many
healthy, bright delinquents, and only a small proportion of mental defec­
tives get into trouble.
Does the influence o f gangster movies, detective stories, and radio thrillers
cause juvenile delinquency?— a question that worries many parents. Prob­
ably not, for many children attend such pictures regularly and listen to such
radio programs almost every night before going to bed and yet never become
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

What Causes Delinquency?


A large proportion of delinquents come from miserable homes homes
that have been broken by death or desertion of a parent; depraved homes,
where the mother may be immoral and the father alcoholic or criminal;
homes where the foreign-born parents’ old-world culture clashes with that
of the community to which the child is constantly exposed; homes where
social values are cheap or altogether lacking. Is it, then, bad home environ­
ment? Cultural conflict? False standards of behavior? Then why does
one child become a thief and another in the same family become a useful
These are but a few of the questions that have puzzled all students of
delinquency. They indicate the complexity of the problem. If we recall
the three boys, Jimmy, Tommy, and Peter, we quickly realize that one single
answer to “ why” will not do.
Countless studies of delinquency have been made and countless causes
listed. But setting down relevant factors, even in an individu/al case, is
only the beginning of the search. We must understand what part these
factors played in shaping the particular delinquent’ s personality whether
or not they became a dynamic force in his feeling and thinking, propelling
him into misconduct. Take, for example, the oft-listed factor of poverty.
One child may react to his poverty by feeling resentful toward the world
and will perhaps steal in order to make up to himself for what he feels
he is unjustly deprived of. His brother, on the contrary, may be spurred
by the selfsame situation to achieve legitimate success. A child like
Peter Taglione may react to his handicap by feeling inferior and may
withdraw into fantasies about his physical prowess, or he may actually
engage in tough, delinquent behavior as a compensation for his weakness.
Yet we all know many examples of physically handicapped people who have
done extremely well.
In short, there is no one cause o f delinquency. There are many con­
tributing causes, and for each child they vary in significance. To under­
stand the delinquent behavior of an individual child it is necessary to
learn all about him. W e must know about his physical and mental make-up.
W e must know about the social and psychological forces that have played
upon him from the time he was born. Above all, we must know how he
feels about things, if we are to understand what makes him the kind of
person he is and what prompts him to do the kind of things he does.

There are many kinds of delinquents. Among some groups, for example,
certain kinds of stealing though known to be illegal are regarded as a normal
means of existence. Take children living near railroad tracks who are sent
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

out by their parents to take coal from stalled freight cars in order to have
heat for their homes, or even, perhaps, to sell. These children are, of course,
legally delinquent. Yet in their stealing they are conforming to home and
community customs that conflict with those o f the larger social group.
(For a discussion of delinquent children of this type see Delinquency
Areas, p. 15.)
The delinquents who challenge our thinking most, however, are those
children who refuse or are unable, for one reason or another, to conform to
society’s demands. This raises the question: How do children learn to
conform to “ the rules” ? What is the process by which they become re­
sponsible individuals? How does it happen that some children fail in this,
and therefore never really grow up?

Teaching the Rules of the Game
Children are not born with a sense of right or wrong. They must develop
it. They must learn to repress impulses that are socially disapproved, as,
for example, the desire to take something that belongs to someone else, or
the urge to strike people or to destroy things when they are angry. They
must be taught to behave according to prescribed conventions. It is the
family that does this most important work for society— the work o f “ civiliz­
ing” the child.
How does the family make over the child from a self-seeking creature
demanding immediate satisfaction for his wants to a law-abiding citizen who
subordinates his personal desires to the interests o f the social group? We
do not know exactly, but intimate studies o f children have given us some
insight into the process. Children try to be like the persons they admire
and love. We are all familiar with the little boy who takes on his father’s
gestures, the little girl who assumes the tone of her mother when she is
scolding her baby brother. Children not only imitate their parents’ external
behavior, accepting the loved parents as an ideal, but they also absorb their
traits and standards of behavior.
Now, the parents, in teaching the child to behave properly, must impose
certain restrictions upon him. In turn, the child, wanting to keep his par­
ents’ love by being “ good,” and fearful of losing it and being punished if
he is “ bad,” unconsciously takes over as part of himself the teachings and
prohibitions set by his parents. These guide his behavior and forbid him,
even after he is no longer supervised from the outside, to do those things
that his parents, and indirectly society, disapprove of. In other words, he
develops a conscience. The kind of conscience a child develops depends
upon the kind of adults he has patterned himself after, and, more important,
upon the emotional feeling between him and the adults closest to him—
namely, his parents.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

What Causes Delinquency?


Early Conflicts
Studies of delinquents show that often it is here in their early development
that there has been a hitch. Some delinquents have unconsciously patterned
themselves after a loved person who himself is delinquent. Jimmy’s worship
of his brother, Jack, who was sent to prison, was one o f the factors account­
ing for his behavior.
Many children, particularly during their babyhood when they were first
asked to accept society’s restrictions, had an unhappy emotional relationship
with their parents that kept them from making the parents’ standard o f be­
havior a part of themselves. Doctors Healy and Bronner1 in a study of
delinquents and their nondelinquent brothers and sisters found that the es­
sential difference between the two groups lay in the fact that the nondelin­
quents had satisfying relationships with their parents in their early life while
the delinquents did not. Many o f these delinquent children felt unloved
and developed a lasting sense o f injury or hostility toward the world. Some,
on the other hand, had been so pampered— “ spoiled” — in their childhood
that they had never learned to control their impulses properly or to accept
discipline. Away from the indulgent protection of their families, they were
unable to make the adjustments necessary for social living.
The antisocial behavior of still other delinquents, whom we call “ neurotic,”
is often the outward expression o f conflict between their “ bad” impulses
and their consciences.
We sometimes find that delinquents and even
criminals who suffer from this kind o f emotional disturbance seem to want
to be punished. Some students o f the problem go so far as to say that these
persons commit offenses and unconsciously manage to get caught because
they want punishment to relieve their guilty feelings about matters not even
connected with the offense. This may seem farfetched; nevertheless it has
been found to be true in many cases.
Tommy’s delinquent behavior might be regarded as an expression of an
internal conflict. Though his father was a law-abiding and well-meaning
fellow, he showed little interest in the boy, and it was the mother, the
dominating figure in the home, to whom Tommy felt most attached. But
Tommy must have had mixed feelings about her. Often he must have felt
very angry indeed toward his mother for favoring Bud. At the same time
he must have felt guilty over his “ bad thoughts” about her, as so many
children do when they feel “ mean” toward their parents. And he must also
have felt confused in his attitude toward his little brother. Often a little
child resents the birth o f another because he feels replaced in the affection
o f the parents. He wishes the baby were dead and perhaps may even want
to do away with it himself. But having been taught that it is “ wicked” to
have such impulses, he represses them. The conflict between his feelings
1 Healy, William, and Augusta F. Bronner, New Light on Delinquency and Its Treatment.
Press. New Haven, 1936.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Yale University


Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

and the teachings o f his parents remains, however, and as in Tommy’s case,
it may show itself in nervous symptoms (nail biting, bed wetting, sleep
disturbances, head jerking) or, under certain circumstances (for example,
the influence o f Jimmy, whom he admired) in misbehavior.

W hen E m otion a l N eeds Are U nm et
In general, the delinquent child is the unhappy child— the emotionally
maladjusted child. His misconduct is a symptom of some inner or outer
disturbance, usually both. To the casual observer his behavior may seem
naughty or vicious. To the delinquent himself it has as much meaning as
socially approved activity has for the well behaved. His misconduct is his
way of reacting to his inner urges and the environmental pressures.
Everyone— the delinquent and the law-abiding— has certain fundamental
emotional needs that he seeks to satisfy. Simply expressed, they are the
need for love and affection, for security with other human beings; and
the need for growth and achievement and for recognition from other
human beings.
In order that a child may grow up into a mature, well-adjusted adult,
able to participate in our society without too much emotional strain, he
must have, particularly in his early childhood, the kind o f family that will
help him answer those needs. First and above all, he must be secure in
his relationship with his parents. He must feel that he is loved, that he
“ belongs.” Such security gives him a sense of worth and of confidence in
himself, which help him toward becoming an integrated personality.
As was indicated earlier, studies o f delinquents have shown that for
many the need for security and love was unmet. They felt rejected by
those very persons— their parents— whom they most wanted to be close to.
The thwartings of their fundamental needs made them feel angry, insecure
frustrated, inadequate. The disturbed child does not necessarily know that
he feels this way. A ll he knows, if he thinks about it at all, is that he is
tense and unhappy, and he fumbles about, seeking in some substitute way
to find satisfaction for these needs that we all have. Some children escape
from this tension by finding satisfaction in day dreams. Others turn to
delinquent behavior through which they may get recognition or imagined
revenge or some other substitute gratification.
All three children with whom we have become acquainted lacked this
feeling of security with their parents. Jimmy felt that his father did not
love him, and though his mother had a warm regard for the boy, she was
so harassed by her constant child bearing, the inadequacy of her husband,
her chronic concern for “ making ends meet,” that she had little time or
energy to show Jimmy the love he wanted.
We sensed Tommy’s feeling o f rejection at the birth o f Buddy. A child
of 2 naturally still wants his mother for himself and resents the presence
o f another who robs him of her attention. A tactful parent can, o f course
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

What Causes Delinquency?


handle such a situation so that it leaves no scar upon the growing personality
o f the older child. As we know, most children learn to accept their brothers
and sisters and share the parents with them. In Tommy’s case, his mother
showed a serious unawareness or disregard o f the child’s needs. While his
brother was petted and fussed over, Tommy was given scant notice.
Peter was subjected to an abnormally cruel and harsh father on the one
hand and on the other was indulged by an overprotective mother. The
marked difference in their treatment was bound to leave Peter disturbed and
confused in his attitude toward adults and the world in general.
For his healthy development mto maturity, a child must have the kind of
relationship with his parents that will fulfill his second need— the need for
growth, for achievement, for status as an individual apart from his family.
As a child develops, his interests gradually broaden and his experiences
expand outside the family circle. As he approaches puberty he wants to
assert himself, to become independent, and emancipate himself from his
The process o f achieving these ends is not always a smoothly flowing affair,
even in the healthiest o f children. There are times when the normal adoles­
cent wants to be a “ baby” ; at other times he wants to be “ his own boss.” It
is this conflict, among other factors, that makes adolescence a time of stress
for all children. The child who is secure in his relationship with his par­
ents, however, is freer to loosen the family ties gradually and to become an
emotionally mature adult than is the insecure child. The latter may become
anxious about his process o f “ growing up” and “ hang on to his parents,
figuratively. Or a similar child, feeling guilty or ashamed of his desire to
be cared for when he should be a “ bU, boy now,” may pretend to be tough
and independent. Studies o f criminals have shown that many of the socalled “ tough guys” were emotionally immature and insecure and that their
craving to appear aggressive hid from themselves, as well as from others,
their intense longing for dependence and for support. Tommy was such a
child. He needed to cover up his deep wish to be “ babied” by fancying
himself an admired masculine hero. In his actual exploits with Jimmy he
tried to prove to himself that he was indeed “ a tough guy.”
All children— and for that matter, all adults— need recognition, approval
from others. Failing to find satisfaction for this basic desire in their actual
experiences, they get what comfort they can by withdrawing into the realm
of fantasy where all their wishes come true. Or unable to gain recognition
through socially acceptable behavior, they may turn to delinquency to get
the acclaim and admiration they seek from their companions. Tommy and
Peter sought refuge from their feelings of inadequacy, arising from lack o f
recognition, in daydreams at first and later in delinquency.
This does not mean that all children who are rejected, “ spoiled,” or
guilt-ridden, who feel frustrated, inadequate, and revengeful, become delin­
quent. Some of these children find expression for their conflict in ways
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

that are not legally forbidden. But the child who is unhappy in his family
relationships is likely to seek satisfactions away from home. And if he
lives in a community in which antisocial attitudes prevail, in which other
boys in the neighborhood seem to be getting a lot of fun out of forbidden
activities, in which a pattern of delinquent behavior is traditional, he is
more susceptible to the attractions of delinquency than another child under
the same community influences who has found more strength and satisfactions
in his home.

While the home is the first and perhaps the most important influence in
shaping the child’s personality and in “ civilizing” him, it is by no means
the only one. Other environmental influences also play a significant part
in determining the pattern of behavior he will follow. The harm done to
a child by an unfortunate home situation may be offset by satisfying relation­
ships and constructive experiences on the outside.

The School a Potent Force
Because it receives the child at a relatively early age, the school is in a
strategic position to influence his development and adjustment for later life.
Aside from its formal tasks of passing on to the child the traditions and
customs of society and thus perpetuating our cultural pattern; of teaching
him to think clearly and independently; of equipping him with skills by
which he may later earn a living through useful work— aside from these
tasks, the school plays a very significant role in helping the child learn how
to get along with other people and to accept the obligations that come with
living as part of the group.
These are the school’s responsibilities. To fulfill them it must understand
the needs of the total child— not only his intellectual needs but his emo­
tional and social needs as well— and adjust its program to meet them. If
it succeeds, the school can be a most potent force in helping the child on his
way toward becoming a mature, well-adjusted adult able to take his part
in a democratic society. If it fails to recognize and meet these needs, par­
ticularly for a child who has come to school already thwarted, it may indirectly
serve to do him harm.
Behavior problems in school indicate that something is wrong between
the child and his environment. It may be that the maladjustment occurred
long before the child came to school, so that he is only bringing to school
the unhappiness and feeling of being thwarted that he feels at home. But
whether he is reacting to an unfortunate home situation or to some frustra­
tion he experiences in the school set-up, it is important that the school recog-
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What Causes Delinquency?


nize his behavior as a symptom of conflict, instead of treating it as a nuisance
or mere “ willful defiance” o f the school’s regulations.

The most common symptom of maladjustment in school is truancy. Tru­
ancy has been called “ the kindergarten of crime” because frequently children
who later become delinquent start their misbehavior as truants during their
early school years. While “ bumming around,” generally with other truants,
they frequently fall under the influence of older boys or girls who initiate
them into the techniques of stealing and other delinquent acts.
Children become truants because for one reason or another they are
dissatisfied. Dissatisfactions with school may arise from various situations;
one may bè a curriculum unsuited to the pupil. Thè bright child may become
a truant because he finds the routine school program adjusted to the level
of the mediocre, boring; the dull child because the program is too difficult.
The subject matter taught may be unrelated to children’s everyday experi­
ence and they may lose interest in learning something that has no meaning
for them.
Studies have shown that a large proportion of delinquents were markedly
behind their grades in school. The sense of being a failure and the scorn
to which a retarded child is exposed, both by his parents and by other chil­
dren, may be potent factors underlying a child’s truancy.
An uncomfortable relationship with a teacher who has no understanding
of his needs may impel a child toward truancy. Rigid discipline, imposed
by a teacher who demands obedience through strict, authoritarian methods,
can only serve to increase the feeling of rebellion and retaliation against
persons in authority that some children, as a result of their home situation,
bring to school to begin with. Conversely, weak discipline leading to futile
and confused school hours can have the same effect.
The school’s contribution to delinquency is not so much one of commis­
sion is one of omission. If schools fail to take cognizance of children as
total personalities, with feelings and interests and family situations out of
which they come and to which they must return, some children— including
perhaps many of the more spirited ones— will rebel against them and be
labeled “ truants.”
Jimmy Smith was an example of the school’s failure to- meet a child s
nee(Js— and, even worse, perhaps, of its frequent failure to spot an emotion­
ally disturbed child. His early truancy should have been a warning that he
needed help. Instead, his truancy and his annoying behavior in the class­
room were regarded at best as a nuisance, to be handled with scoldings and
visits to the principal. Later they were regarded as a violation of authority
to be referred to the court.
824775— 49-

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

Tom Kelly was considered by his teachers to be a “ good boy.” He
caused no trouble and failed in no grades. Yet we know he was a poorly
adjusted child. Teachers are more likely to regard only that child as a
problem” who is noisy and causes a distraction in the classroom, who
irritates them by disturbing order; they are less likely to recognize as a
problem the meek, overly quiet youngster who may actually be withdrawing
from reality into a world of his own, more to his satisfaction than the one
in which he finds himself.
Peter was another child whose needs the school had failed to meet
adequately. Unable because of his poor intelligence to keep up with the
intellectual pace of other children of his age, he was removed from the
regular grade and placed in a special class. Now, special classes can be of
decided benefit to those children who are unable to progress at the same rate
as the average child. The classes are generally small enough to permit the
teacher, often specially trained, to give each child the individual attention
he must have; the programs of these classes are adjusted to the individual
capacities of the children. It is most important, however, that these classes
should be so integrated with the regular school program and their function
so interpreted to the community that no stigma will be attached to a child
who attends a special class. For if a child and his schoolmates regard the
special classroom as the “ dummy room,” the hazards to the child’s emotional
health in being pointed out as inferior may outweigh the advantages o f
placement in such a class.


The Gang
As children grow and their interests broaden, they naturally become curi­
ous about the world outside their home. They venture into the neighborhood
to make friends with other children and soon they form spontaneous play
groups or “ gangs.” Though we have come to associate the word “ gang”
with something predatory, the gang in itself is not inherently vicious. It is
merely the expression of a growing child’s need for companionship and for
group activity at a certain time in his life. It becomes dangerous if the street
life from which it springs offers opportunities for delinquency and if the
leader is a bad influence. To the potentially delinquent child whose family
life is disorganized, gang life becomes particularly attractive. There, with
children o f his own age who are perhaps as neglected as he and from whom
he may get recognition and acceptance by taking on the ways of the gang, he
finds the satisfactions for which he is searching.
The influence of the gang is particularly effective because it often com­
pletely answers the boy’s needs. There he finds his desire for companion­
ship and adventure satisfied. He gets a feeling of belonging and of loyalty
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

What Causes Delinquency?


to the group. In the delinquent gang the tougher he is the more recognition
he get9 . He may also find in the gang the discipline he needs. The gang
develops its own codes and rules of behavior and demands that its members
rigidly abide by them. Thus the gang’s control over a boy’s conduct becomes
stronger than that of his family or of the larger social group. But through
the gang’s influence he may develop attitudes and behavior patterns that
isolate him from conventional society.
Adolescents, whether delinquent or not, are especially sensitive to the
attitudes of their own small group and are more responsive to the judgments
of their companions than to those of their own family or of the larger
society. W e are all familiar with the freshman high-school lad who spurns
the well-tailored suit his mother bought him for the baggy pants and jacket
that must never match and for dirty moccasins just because “ the other boys
wear them.” The delinquent is not essentially different in this respect.
He conforms to the codes and standards of behavior of his group. In the
“ good gang” the lad who makes the winning touchdown is ¡adulated; in
the delinquent gang the boy who commits the most daring and flagrant
offense or can most cleverly evade the police becomes the hero. The
difference lies in their cultural standards and traditions.

Delinquency Areas
The activities and attitudes of gangs reflect to a large extent the social
values and customs of the neighborhoods from which they spring. It is a
common observation that “ slums breed crime” and that in the deteriorated
neighborhoods with the greatest amount of social ills— poverty, disease, neg­
lect, family strife, desertions, mental disorders— juvenile delinquency and
crime flourish.
These social swamps, or “ delinquency areas,” generally adjacent to central
business districts or industrial centers, are characterized by physical deteri­
oration, social disorganization, and other unfavorable factors. The build­
ings are dilapidated, the housing conditions deplorable. As one might ex­
pect, these areas are inhabited, for the most part, by families too poor to
live elsewhere, many of them dependent on assistance from welfare agencies.
These families move into better neighborhoods as soon as they are financially
able to do s o ; hence the population is very mobile. Demoralizing influences
of low-grade pool halls and taverns, gambling “ joints,” burlesque shows, and
cheap dance halls abound. Ideas of “ easy money” through shady enterprises
are in the air.
The economic insecurity o f the families, the high rate of movement of
the population, the different cultural backgrounds of the groups, and the
failure of the families to recognize their common interests hamper the devel­
opment of community spirit or neighborhood organization to control the
children or check lawlessness. Without this control, crime and delinquency
gain a foothold as a traditional part of the social life of these areas.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

The traditions and patterns o f delinquency are handed down from one
generation to another through group contacts. Such activities as stealing
fruit, lifting brass from empty buildings, “ rolling drunks,” and “ stripping
cars” are neighborhood sports that the children in gangs learn early in the
course of their everyday experiences. They become educated in crime.
They are encouraged in their delinquencies by the “ fences” who buy their
stolen wares and are spurred into committing more serious offenses in the
hope of emulating the older criminals who are around. Their heroes are
the underworld “ big shots” ; their ambition is to advance from petty thieving
to daylight robbery. They know about the inside workings of the organized,
and powerful criminal gangs and their “ rackets” ; they become wise in the
ways of political corruption and smirk at the alliance between politics and
These areas have a low resistance to crime and to the other pernicious
influences that pervade them. If a notorious tavern keeper should try to
set up business in an organized neighborhood, citizen groups, neighborhood
clubs, parent-teacher associations, church clubs, and other such organiza­
tions would rise in protest, and, if they were powerful and vociferous
enough, Mr. Tavernkeeper would have to move elsewhere. But in the dis­
integrated neighborhoods there is no organized sentiment to combat demoralizing conditions— only an attitude of indifference or helplessness— and the
tradition of delinquency perpetuates itself.
And there are few constructive influences to offset this tradition. Those
organizations fostering leisure-time activities that do exist are for the most
part supported and run by persons living in more privileged communities.
Their programs are imposed from without as “ good for” the participants
and often fail to meet the needs of the neighborhood group.
These areas offer their children no consistent set of cultural standards
to follow and little wholesome social life by which they can form socially
acceptable patterns of behavior. The wonder is not that children brought
up under the constant influences of such surroundings become delinquent,
but that so many escape delinquency.

We generally think of juvenile delinquents as unkempt city children
teeming out of overcrowded tenements into noisy, bustling streets, there to
do mischief and sometimes harm. But delinquency is not confined to city
streets. It seeps to the surface in towns and villages, in “ resort spots”
and crossroads trading centers, in backwoods and countryside.
Its form may be different in the country. The country boy has less oppor­
tunity than the city child to steal hub caps, or plumbing fixtures from
vacant buildings.

But his need for activity is as great, and if he is given
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

What Causes Delinquency?


no wholesome outlet for his energies, he, too, may find release in undesirable
ways. With another child or two he may experiment in sex play; he may
pilfer a neighbor’s barn or hurl rocks at a greenhouse.
We hear less about delinquency in rural communities than in cities because
in the country it is less likely to be labeled as such and put into a statistical
table. An act considered punishable in the city may be disregarded in the
country. Standards of law enforcement may be lax in some rural districts.
Then, too, people in small communities are often loath to lodge a formal
complaint against a neighbor’s child. If he is fortunate, time and later
constructive influences temper his behavior. If not, it grows worse until it
becomes too flagrant to be disregarded and action is finally taken— usually
too little and too late.
In thinking of rural life, we are likely to conjure up— particularly if we
happen to live in the city— a picture of rolling meadows and placid cows,
of neat frame houses, church spires, and shady streets. And so it often is.
But another view reveals a different sight— unpainted shacks on the edge
of town, squalid shanties on river banks, near railroad tracks; under­
nourished children too poorly dressed to attend school; a cluster of beer
“ joints” and pool halls, and young loafers hanging around whistling at the
passing girls; and over all, the squalid atmosphere of poverty and depriva­
tion. These are slum conditions as truly as any found in the largest cities.
Unwholesome community influences and lack of constructive recreational
facilities are no less potent destructive forces in rural communities than in
cities. The bleak homes of the tenant farmer and the mill hand, the
monotony o f life in some small towns with nothing to do for the young
folks in their spare time but “ just set” — such situations are seedbeds for
undesirable behavior.
“ Nothing to d o !” And so often, as one rural delinquent girl put it,
“ What there is to do ain’t decent.” So the boys hang around the village
tavern telling dirty stories and drinking beer. And the girls, seeking some
excitement and relief from the dullness of their lives, walk down the road
in the evening, accepting auto rides from strangers who stop their cars
or they sneak off to the dance in the next county to meet those wild Baker
boys their parents warned them against. Maybe the Baker boys are a bit
rough— but they’re gay and exciting— and a girl wants to be “ a good sport.”
Fresh air and meadows are not enough. The unmet needs of country
children— the frustrations and unhappiness at home, the neglect, the poverty,
the lack of opportunity— these take their toll in maladjusted personalities
and juvenile delinquency no less than among city children.
During World War II, as in the depression of the 1930’s, people’s everyday
ordinary way of life was disrupted. Standards of behavior were confused
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

and social controls weakened. Attitudes o f hate and destructiveness—
ordinarily forbidden or repressed— were permitted expression.
In the war years, many teen-age young people of today were children
whose fathers were in camps, overseas, or away from home in war industries
for months or years. Many were in families torn from the communities
where they had deep roots and were never fully integrated in the new
localities. Thèse children lacked a sense of security not only because of
their disrupted home life, but because excitement, uncertainty, and general
insecurity were in the air.
Later, as war industries closed down or reconverted, periods o f unem­
ployment followed for some of the fathers. Many fathers returning from
military service found it hard and slow to adjust to conditions at home.
Many mothers continued to work. Overcrowding or the temporary nature of
homes added still more elements that lead to instability o f home and
community life.
The effect of the war years and postwar dislocations on these children
will be felt for a long time. Many are still affected by these influences
and much needs to be done to counteract them. State and community
planning on a long-time basis is needed to consider the measures necessary
to provide the basic services that will prevent and control juvenile delin­
quency that grew out of the war years. It is becoming increasingly
recognized that safeguards for the well-being of all children will be the best
means of cutting down this problem. Consequently greater emphasis is
being placed on programs o f parent education, family and youth counseling,
wholesome leisure-time activities for people o f all ages, educational facilities
adapted to the needs and interests of the children to be served, child-guidance
clinics, and on social-welfare agencies with child-welfare workers skilled in
case-work and group-work techniques, closely available where children live.
This is being done in order to deal with behavior problems early, before they
become serious enough to be classed as delinquency.
A number of States have organized their efforts to prevent delinquency
under State-wide planning commissions or committees and have related
them to the total planning for the need of all children. These commissions
are stimulating communities to study themselves and deal with local condi­
tions that are creating juvenile problems.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Prevention and Treatment
oi Delinquency

Everyone's Concern
Healthy, happy, secure children— children who feel comfortable with
themselves, their playmates, their parents and other adults— do not, as a
rule, become delinquent. The most fundamental way to prevent delinquency
is to help children to be healthy, happy, and secure.
The problem of preventing delinquency must be seen broadly, in terms
o f developing well-adjusted children. It involves more than the improve­
ment o f juvenile courts or the building of better training schools. It in­
volves more than the isolated efforts o f leisure-time and character-building
Prevention o f delinquency involves community concern for the needs of
all children— the child across the tracks and in the city slums, the child
in the depressed rural regions, the shopkeeper’s child and the child of the
factory worker, the crippled child and the dull child, the child in a foster
home and the child in an institution, the child receiving Aid to Dependent
Children, the child who needs aid and is not getting it, and even the child
from an economically secure family.
And it involves more than concern. It involves taking action to meet
their needs. This is no small task. It means providing basic community
services to 49 million children, services that contribute to their healthful
physical, social, and emotional growth. These would include social services
that build up and strengthen the economic and social security o f the family;
adequate health services and medical care for all children; opportunities
for education and for wholesome recreation and companionship; protection
against harmful community influences and against the exploitation of young
people for commercial gain.
The job takes money. But unless we are willing to pay the price for
necessary services now, we shall have to pay later in the immeasurable cost
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

o f maladjusted personalities, and in the material expense o f training schools,
prisons, and mental institutions for the care o f those we have neglected.
As is indicated in the first section, What Causes Delinquency? a child’s
family, particularly during his first few years, is the most important influence
in his life. , It is in the home that his personality is shaped, his attitudes
toward other people and toward authority are formed, and his ethical values
and standards of conduct are molded. Any solution to the problem of
delinquency must concern itself, first o f all, with the family out o f which
the child comes.
The best schools, churches, clinics, playgrounds, and parks are o f minor
worth unless the child has first and foremost a stable and secure family
life in which his fundamental physical, social, and emotional needs can be
met. The primary essential of a comprehensive program aimed at the
development o f wholesome personalities and the prevention o f delinquency
must be the preservation o f family life.
When it is absolutely necessary that mothers work, the community must
provide adequate care for their children. This should include not only
day-care centers for the preschool children but supervised activities before
and after school for the older ones. And if mothers o f children under 2 years
must work, provision should be made for the day care o f their babies iin
foster homes where they can receive individual attention. We must also
see that social services are available to help working mothers iron out family
problems and to ease their burden o f responsibility when it is too heavy for
them to carry.

Parent Education
Children always should find in their families love, security, and guidance.
To meet these needs, parents themselves must be mature and show under­
standing of their children.
The art of parenthood is no simple one. As life in our rapidly changing
society grows more complicated, parents often need and want help in rear­
ing their children. They should have an opportunity to express their fears
and to get skilled counsel in answering the many questions and solving the
many problems that arise in bringing up children.
Such counsel implies more than specific instructions for habit training
and child care. Parents must be helped to understand their children’s
emotional needs and how they may meet them. They must gain insight into
the fact that their own personalities directly affect the child’s and that his
behavior may reflect their own attitudes toward him. They must be helped
to recognize certain undesirable conduct in the child as a symptom o f
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Prevention and Treatment oi Delinquency


disturbance rather than as “ naughtiness.” They must see the necessity of
treating behavior problems early and of seeking professional help when the
problem seems beyond their skill.
There are many organizations, both public and private, on national,
State, and local levels, that promote parent education. A few States have
initiated parent-education programs throughout the State through their
departments of education, which furnish material and counsel to local
groups; some State universities offer comparable programs. The Federal
Government, largely through the Children’s Bureau, the Extension Service
of the Department of Agriculture, and the Office of Education, has been a
potent force in spreading information on child care and guidance to .large
numbers of parents. These agencies supply supplementary material and
counseling service to State offices and local workers, arrange radio talks,
and distribute free publications on child care to parents for the asking.
Many communities are making provision for parent education by sponsor­
ing group discussions or counseling interviews through the churches, libra­
ries, schools, child-guidance clinics, community centers, family-welfare agen­
cies, women’s clubs, and study groups. It does not much matter which
agency sponsors the parent-education program so long as it reaches all
parents, answers the needs o f the group participating in it, has good leader­
ship, and is one facet of a coordinated community program aimed at the
development of wholesome family and community life and, indirectly, at
the prevention of delinquency.

Family Income
Even though parents understand their children and are capable of bring­
ing them up wisely, if they are constantly struggling without success to
make ends meet or are out of work and worried about how they can pay
next month’s rent, it is extremely difficult for them to give their children
a feeling of security that they themselves lack. No family can be secure
unless it has sufficient income to provide its children with at least the
necessities of life.
How many American families can give their children the security that
comes from growing up in a home with an adequate standard of living and
a stable income? In 1945 the average (median) income of families having
four or more children under 18 years of age was about $2,100 as compared
with $2,800 for those with one or two children.

The average annual income

of white families was about twice that of nonwhite families.2
Certain groups of children are exposed to greater economic hardships
than children in the general population.

Rural children, for example, on

the whole fare worse economically than city children.

Negro and other

Bureau o f Census : Family and Individual Money Income in the United States, 1945, No. 2, p . 60.

824775— 49-----------4
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

children o f minority groups in both city and country suffer greater economic
deprivations than their white neighbors.
What kind of security can these low-income families give their children?
What kind of home life? Family discord is more likely to arise when
parents are harassed by anxieties over making a living. In discouragement
or despair, fathers may desert their families or begin to drink; mothers
may give up the struggle to keep an orderly home. Many situations that
are labeled “ delinquency” are basically family problems that have found
expression in the behavior of the child.
As long ago as 1919 Julia C. Lathrop, first Chief o f the Children’s
Bureau, said:
Children are not safe and happy if their parents are miserable, and parents must be
miserable if they cannot protect a home against poverty.
Let us not deceive ourselves. The power to maintain a decent family living standard
is the primary essential of child welfare. This means a living wage and wholesome
working life for the man, a good and skillful mother at home to keep the house and
comfort all within it. Society Can afford no less and can afford no exceptions.

It was true then, it is equally true now.

Families in Need of Assistance
Because o f unemployment, illness, low wages, and other factors beyond
their control, there will always be families that at one time or another will
be unable to provide for their children. We have held to the principle in
this country that these families should be given help. In 1940 between 5
and 6 million children were in families dependent upon some form of eco­
nomic aid for food and shelter.3 Aside from humanitarian aspects, the num­
ber was so great that the kind of assistance given and its' administration
concerned all of us. It is important that the amount of assistance should
provide some measure of securiy and that it should be given as a right— not
as a favor.
In 1930 it became evident that private social agencies and local govern­
ments could not begin to cope with the problem of meeting the needs of
the growing thousands o f unemployed, and that increased public funds
were of urgent importance. State governments began to take responsi­
bility for helping local units. By 1933 the Federal Government assumed
responsibility for a Nation-wide system of public assistance. Later it set
up a Federal works program intended to provide for needy employable per­
sons; it provided special help for farmers; and, as probably the greatest
stride in social welfare of the last decade, it set up, through the Social
Security Act, Nation-wide programs based on the principle that it is society’s
obligation to assure its citizens at least a minimum of security when circum­
stances are such that they cannot provide it by their own initiative alone.
White House Conference on Children in a D em ocracy: Final Report,
Children’ s Bureau Pub. 272. Washington, 1942.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Ch. 7, Economic Assistance.

Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


Of special interest to those concerned with child welfare and the preven­
tion of juvenile delinquency is the provision in the Social Security Act
known as “ aid to dependent children.” Hundreds of thousands of chil­
dren in the United States are deprived of support or care by the death,
absence, or incapacity of one or both parents. In 1909 the White House
Conference declared that no child should be deprived of his home because
of poverty. In 1911 a State “ mothers’ pension” law was passed in Illinois
and between 1911 and 1935 mothers’ aid laws were adopted by all but three
States. The assistance thus given not only kept children in their homes
instead of sending them to institutions but it also saved them from the
destitution or neglect they might have suffered because of the loss of the
breadwinner. By 1935 some 286,000 children were being helped under such
With the passage of the Social Security Act, Federal funds became avail­
able to assist States in providing aid to these children, and the program
included not only children living with their mothers but also children living
with other specified relatives. The act recognized as a cause of dependency
not only the death of the father but also the death of the mother and the
physical or mental incapacity or absence from the home of either or both
About a million children are now receiving aid to dependent children.
Although the assistance has been invaluable to many children, in many
States the grants are not large enough to meet the cost of care, and many
children who are eligible for aid are still not receiving any.
There are many families and individuals in need who do not qualify
for aid under the provisions o f the Social Security Act. They must depend
upon measures for general assistance in their State or local community. The
standards for assistance in many localities are very low, and in some areas
many needy families are neglected entirely.

Toward Economic Security
As citizens actively concerned with the welfare of our children, we must
do everything possible to insure the economic security essential for the pres­
ervation of family life. This means we must see that minimum-wage
legislation is maintained and extended ; that the right of collective bargaining
is safeguarded; that public works programs, adjusted to the fluctuations of
private employment, are part of our national policy; that the provisions
of the Social Security Act are expanded to cover more people and provide
adequate benefits; that aid to dependent children is further developed to
enable each, eligible family to provide adequate care for its children and
that Federal assistance to States is adjusted according to the economic capaci­
ties and needs of the States; that the Federal Government provide aid to the
States for general assistance covering all persons in need who are not in the
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

present categories that fall under the Social Security A ct; and that States pro­
vide substantial aid to local units for public assistance.

For normal, healthful family living, people need decent homes. Yet
millions of children are living in overcrowded, insanitary houses unfit for
human habitation. Studies have shown that families with the greatest
number of children occupy the most dilapidated houses, have the fewest
conveniences, and endure the greatest amount of overcrowding.
In many cities a large proportion of the worst housing is located in districts
where thousands of children are crowded into dark, poorly ventilated,
broken-down buildings, many of them firetraps. There is little play space
except in traffic-laden streets and alleys strewn with trash.
In 1947, 2,800,000 families were living doubled up with other families.
An additional 500,000 families are living in temporary housing, trailers,
rooming houses, and other makeshift accommodations.4
Some of the Nation’s worst housing is to be found in rural areas.


portionately twice as much of the farm housing is in need of major repairs
as is that of nonfarm housing. Overcrowding is twice as frequent in farm
homes as in nonfarm dwellings.4
Improper housing in itself does not cause delinquency.

But the lack of

privacy, the friction and irritations caused by overcrowding may well create
tensions in the child that find expression in delinquency.

Then, too, children

living under these conditions are often eager to get out of the house and
into the streets, away from the supervision of their families and, especially in
overcrowded city areas, are apt to be exposed to influences that may do them
It became evident years ago that private enterprise alone was not meeting
the housing needs of this country, particularly the needs of families with
low incomes. Since 1937 the Federal Government, through various agen­
cies, has assisted local communities with financing and building homes for
low-income families. It has cleared some slum areas and erected admirable
housing projects, most of them providing, among other essentials, recreation
facilities for children.
A well-planned housing program may mean a new way of life for thou­
sands of children.

Citizens interested in child welfare must be concerned

about public-housing programs, including slum clearance, new housing for
low-income groups, rural housing— half of America’s children live in the
country. Local committees to promote public interest in housing can
accomplish much.
Housing Study and Investigation, “ Final Report o f the Joint Committee on Housing,”
Congressman Gamble, March 15, 1948.
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Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


A child’s religion starts with his parents. His basic outlook on life, his
sense of values, his moral and ethical standards he absorbs from the example
o f living set by his parents. The church can reinforce the family’s role
in helping a child achieve personal and social integrity. It can guide youth
in arriving at a scale of values in keeping with democratic living— values
that emphasize the dignity and worth of the individual and the equality
and brotherhood of all people. It can transmit to youth the enduring ideals
of civilization.
Adolescence is a time when children begin to tussle with problems about
themselves and their place in the universe. The church can give them
spiritual faith and confidence in a rational order and an appreciation of
the ultimate truths that transcend the immediate confusion. It can help
youth understand the issues now at stake and can imbue them with a sense
of responsibility as citizens of the world.
To give spiritual guidance— this is the primary role of the church. As
one of the community forces influencing children, the church can also con­
tribute concretely to the prevention of delinquency. To do so its leaders
must take an active interest in community life. They must be aware of
conditions in their neighborhood that make for delinquency and take steps
to eliminate them. They can arouse public concern for community problems
and spur church members into doing something about them. They can co­
operate with other agencies and neighborhood groups to make the com­
munity a better place to live in.
Church buildings can serve as community centers with recreational pro­
grams so varied and attractive that children will be eager to come. These
programs might include discussion groups in which older boys and girls
could thrash out their ideas, doubts, and beliefs. Ideals are molded by the
personalities we admire. Group leaders in church activities, therefore,
should be the kind of men and women who understand young people and
arouse their respect and admiration.
Perhaps the pivotal agency in a unified community child-welfare program
is the school. It reaches practically all children at a relatively early period
of their growth. If it succeeds in helping them to develop integrated
personalities, healthful habits, attitudes, and interests, and a sense of civic
responsibility, it has won a major battle in the prevention of delinquency.
To win this battle the school program must be pointed toward teaching chil­
dren rather than subjects. It must aim to give all children a sense of accom­
plishment and to make the school experience a happy and successful one.
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Children differ in their native endowments, growth patterns, and abilities.
A program centered upon meeting the needs o f all children would have to
be flexible enough to take account of individual differences. A good illus*
tration of this is the school that gives the exceptionally bright child an
enriched program; the dull child a simpler one; the child with a reading
disability, let us say, remedial help.
To engage the interest of children the curriculum should be related to
their everyday experiences. They need to feel that what they are studying
has a current meaning. Geography takes on new significance when children
in school have had letters from school children in other countries and have
written to them.
Young people in high school want to learn practical skills that prepare for
industrial jobs. They should be given such training. They must also be
given an appreciation of the fact that a broad education will help them
understand the nature o f man and his world and make them better able to
meet present-day problems.
The school program must be so devised that children will master that
most essential element for personal and social adjustment and for demo­
cratic living— namely, the art of cooperating with others and assuming the
responsibilities that come with being a member of the group. A common
device is to have children plan and work together on a project, preferably
one related to the community.

A well-planned, flexible program is necessary. But even more important
are the teachers with whom the children come in daily, intimate contact.
For it is primarily through the emotional relationship between one human
being and another that growth and change occur. The teacher one recalls
from his own childhood as having had the best influence on him is not
necessarily the one who knew the most history or mathematics, but is the
one who was most responsive to the children and stimulated them most to
widen their horizons. Some teachers, like some parents who are not emo­
tionally grown up, tend to impose hardships on those under their eontrol if
they themselves have to undergo difficulties. We must make sure that the
teachers to whom we entrust our children are understanding and stable and
not likely to “ take out” on the youngsters their own frustrations.

Spotting Problems Early
No matter how good the teacher and the school program, there will always
be children who, perhaps because of some underlying personality disorder,
or because o f an unfortunate home situation, will show symptoms of malad­

They may avoid companionship with other children or may be
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unduly timid, restless, or lazy. They may express their maladjustment in
undesirable habits such as nail biting, thumb sucking, peculiar mannerisms;
or in such forms o f behavior as stealing, fighting, playing truant, bullying
other children, being disobedient, or causing a disturbance in class. The
school can play an important role in the community campaign against delin­
quency by recognizing these habits and actions as symptons of some disturb­
ance that forewarns of more serious trouble later, and by treating the diffi­
culties early.
Frequently the understanding teacher can herself do much to help the
disturbed child through her personal interest in him. This presupposes,
of course, enough teachers in the school to permit small classes in which
each child can get individual attention and guidance. In some communities
the contrary situation exists. With many teachers leaving the schools to
take better-paying jobs, the remaining teachers are overburdened with
large classes and heavy schedules and have little time or energy left to con­
sider the needs of individual pupils. Communities must pay teachers high
enough salaries to keep them in the schools. Funds to maintain adequate
and qualified staffs are a real preventive of delinquency.
Often, however, the child’s difficulties lie outside the teacher’ s ability
to handle and require the skills and services of other professional people.
For example, a child may be undernourished or suffering from a phys­
ical ailment that prevents him from doing good school work, or his home
situation may be a damaging one. Either the school must provide special
facilities or it must enlist the cooperation of other agencies to help these
children. Some comjmunities have cut dowrn on special services. Such
“ economy” is expensive in the long run as it may later add the greater cost
o f delinquency to the community budget.

Community Participation
Most schools have gone far from their days of isolation from the rest
of the community when they were just an institution to which children
were consigned from 9 to 3:30 o’clock. Educators have come to realize
that a child’s education starts long before he enters the school gates and
that it does not stop when he leaves them. They recognize the necessity
for concerning themselves with the total life of the child— with his home,
his neighborhood, his companions, his play, and all the other influences
besides the school that are educating him.
Some schools are extending their educational services by providing
nursery schools and kindergartens for the very young, and classes in the
evening for grown-ups. They are reaching into homes, not only through
the child but through parent-education classes, mothers’ clubs, and parentteacher activities.
Recognizing children’s need to play and the important influences upon
their lives of the manner in which they use their leisure time, some schools
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

keep their playgrounds and gymnasiums open after school and on holidays,
and sponsor after-school clubs o f various sorts.
Some schools serve as
community centers for the whole neighborhood and offer a wide program
of recreational activities to adults as well as to children.
Programs of vocational guidance can work to keep in school students who
ought to stay, can steer young people into jobs for which they are suited, and
help them to appreciate the value of choosing work that offers training
and a chance for promotion.

What a boy or girl does in his time away from home and school depends
to a large extent upon what the community has to offer. As we have seen
earlier, the communities that offer children the least opportunity for whole­
some recreation are generally the places in which organized community
sentiment is weakest and in which demoralizing influences are most
Inadequate housing, lack of constructive recreational facilities, coupled
with youth’s natural desire for fun and excitement, have tended to thrust
young people who have no other outlets into low-grade commercial amuse­
ment spots that wait like beetle traps to attract them.
Since the purpose of such enterprises is profit for the owners, many,
particularly in neighborhoods where competition is keen, employ question­
able and sometimes illegal methods to lure the trade.
These places themselves do not “ cause” crime. A young person who is
emotionally stable and finds satisfaction for his needs in socially approved
ways, who has opportunities for fun through wholesome outlets, who has
absorbed from his family and other influences in his life decent standards
of behavior, will have little desire for such entertainment, and even if ex­
posed on occasion will suffer little harm.
But the boy or girl who is deprived of emotional or social satisfactions
to begin with and whose judgment and sense of values are immature will be
especially susceptible to the demoralizing attitudes inherent in such places,
to the artificial stimulation, and to the dubious acquaintances he or she may
scrape up there either as customer or as entertainer.
These boys and girls-—and unfortunately there are many of them— need
protection from harmful community influences. A community seriously
concerned about the welfare of its children must maintain an honest and
forthright program of inspection and regulation of commercial amusements,
backed by carefully drawn laws and ordinances, to protect its youth and pre­
vent their exploitation for commercial gain. It must eradicate the festering
spots that breed delinquency by a vigorous policy of law enforcement on the
part of its public officials.
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Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


Citizen groups and private organizations can do much in a community
campaign to protect children. They can study their local conditions and
call sore spots to the attention of the authorities. Through their most power­
ful democratic weapon— the ballot— citizens can wield a telling influence by
voting for individuals they hope will be conscientious and competent public
servants, by supporting them when they carry out their responsibilities, and
by voting against them when they do not.
Regulation and suppression, however, are at best only a negative approach
to the problem of protecting children from harmful community influences.
The community must give its young people ample opportunities for con­
structive activities and recreation to fill their leisure time.

Much has been said about the value of recreation for improving physical
health, building character, or preventing delinquency. Such emphasis over­
looks its essential value in answering everyone’s need for fun, for relaxation
and release, and for self expression.
To the small child play is the most important activity. Those who have
tried calling a child in for dinner know that even eating may seem like an
adult-imposed nuisance to him if he is in the midst of a game with other
children. Through play the young child can give vent to his feelings.
In the period when he is growing up and trying to establish himself as
an individual apart from his family, the youngster finds in his activités
with the group not only an outlet for his energies but satisfaction for many
needs— his need for adventure, for companionship, and for group approval.
The adolescent often gets from his relations with his “ gang” a sense of
emotional security that he may fail to find in his home or in school. Thus
clubs or group affiliations of whatever kind answer a real need for growing
boys and girls.
If the community makes no provision for meeting these needs, children
themselves may take the initiative. The so-called social and athletic
clubs that dot neighborhoods barren of recreational facilities, the “ cellar
clubs” that sprouted up during the depression, where young folks with little
money could get together for talk and fun, give evidence o f young people’ s
ability to “ find a way” — even though a questionable one in some instances—
to meet their desire for social experience.
Immediafely after the outbreak of World War II England closed its youth
clubs and commandeered them for military purposes. It bore the conse­
quences of this ill-advised move in a marked increase in juvenile delinquency.
Children who had been getting real satisfaction out of their club activities
were suddenly left without this anchor and some foundered.
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

formerly delinquent children who were finding wholesome ways o f expression
in their group work were thrown back to their antisocial habits. England
soon remedied the situation by reopening the clubs and expanding them.
A community that has the welfare of its boys and girls at heart will provide
plenty of play space— public parks, playgrounds, athletic fields, swimming
pools, and camping spots. It will have easily accessible clubs and settlements
and social centers. It will provide competent and trained leaders to help
youngsters develop skills and creative talents in which they may find pleasure
immediately and in later years.

Recreation as Prevention
One often hears the claim that wholesome recreation will prevent delin­
quency. The skeptic, on the other hand, will point to statistics showing
high delinquency rates in neighborhoods having boys’ and girls’ clubs,
character-building agencies, settlement houses, and social centers. No one
program by itself can combat delinquency. A child potentially or actually
delinquent may find enough gratification in his activities at a club and in
his human relationships there to be diverted from antisocial ways. Another
child, however, may be so constantly exposed to harmful influences in his
home and community that, despite the real pleasure he may get out o f play­
ing on a team or creating something with his hands, he keeps on being
It is unfair to expect recreational agencies alone to be a “ cure-all” for
delinquency or to prevent its occurrence, when, as we have seen earlier, the
causes are numerous and complex. By meeting children’s needs through
constructive recreational activities, leisure-time agencies can, and do, play
an important part, together with the home, the church, the school, welfare
agencies and other social resources, in a total program whose purpose is the
wholesome development of the community’s children.

Recreation as Treatment
In general, the programs of leisure-time agencies are set up to meet the
needs of average, well-adjusted children who are able to abide by the rules
o f the group and feel secure enough to participate in competitive and highly
organized activities. Many delinquents, as we have seen, are socially im­
mature children who have difficulty in getting along with others. The char­
acteristics that keep a “ difficult” child from getting along at home, at school,
and in other places also prevent him from fitting into the regular program
of, say, a boys’ or girls’ club, a YMCA or YWCA, or social center, where
many of the activities involve ability to cooperate with others. This is one
reason why many o f such children shy away from these places or drop out
after a short time. To urge them to participate in organized group activities
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Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


may be dangerous, because it may only increase their sense of inadequacy
and difference.
It is not suggested that leisure-time agencies change the emphasis of their
programs to help delinquents primarily. .This would obviously be unfair
to the great majority of the children, who are not delinquent and to whom
the regular programs offer many satisfactions.
Without slighting the majority of their members, however, leisure-time
agencies can be of help to children already delinquent or in danger of be­
coming so. As in the case of the schools, this would mean a flexible pro­
gram with a wide range of activities in which children of varying degrees
of social adaptability might find satisfying experiences. Many agencies
have recognized the desirability of such a plan and are gradually providing
facilities for special groups under expert guidance.

Group Leaders
More important than any other aspects of its program, as of any agency
dealing with human beings, are its workers. Leisure-time agencies must
have the kind of leaders who are not merely experts in physical culture, or
dramatics, or arts and crafts. They must be sensitive to the needs of children
and able to meet them. They must understand the implications of human
behavior and be sufficiently trained to spot the child whose actions indicate
some maladjustment as, for example, the child who always wants to be the
“ boss” ; the child who pursues his interests always alone; the child who flits
from one activity to another without completing any; the child who wanders
around by himself and just “ watches.” Through personal interest' and at­
tention a skilled leader can help to meet the needs o f a maladjusted child.
By manipulating the agency’s program he can gradually help one child to
develop the ability to get along with others; another to get group recognition
through his achievement; a third to develop initiative or a capacity for
leadership; and a fourth to learn to focus his energies.
For many maladjusted boys and girls the leader’s greatest value lies in
giving them a happy relationship with an adult, which they may have
lacked. As is indicated in the first section, What Causes Delinquency?,
children take on the ways and attitudes of those they admire. A good
relationship with a group leader whom a delinquent child admires may
have a great deal of influence in changing his conduct.

Behavior problems in childhood, if left untreated, may herald later delin­
quency. A community concerned with the prevention of delinquency must
have facilities for the study and treatment of children showing behavior
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

or personality disorders. Child-guidance clinics are set up primarily for
that purpose. While many of the larger cities have such services, the
majority of children in the United States have no access to them.
Clinics vary somewhat in their functions, the sources from which they
receive cases, and the auspices under which they operate. A clinic may
be attached to a school, a hospital, a court, or a social agency; it may be
part of the State or local public welfare or public-health service. Some
clinics are supported by private funds, others by public funds. The par­
ticular affiliations of a child-guidance clinic are unimportant. What is
essential is that it make itself part of a coordinated community program.
In general, child-guidance clinics are staffed with psychiatrists, psycholo­
gists, and social workers. They are specially trained to understand the
physical, psychological, and social forces that prompt the behavior of chil­
dren, and to help them in their difficulties.
Each child is carefully studied in the light of his own situation and
treated according to his individual needs. One child whose problems are
an expression of some deep emotional conflict may require intensive treat­
ment by the psychiatrist. Another child, whose misbehavior is largely a
byproduct of the cultural environment in which he lives, may profit by an
entirely different type of approach. In most instances, the total situation
to which the child reacts must be treated rather than the child himself.
Perhaps the attitudes of the parents toward the child need to be modified,
or their anxieties, reflected in the child’s behavior, relieved. Perhaps the
child’s school program should be changed, or his physical condition rem­
edied. Perhaps enrollment in a club is called for, a club in which the child
can find expression for his creative abilities under the guidance of a leader
who understands “ problem” children; perhaps the child’s environment is so
detrimental that it is best to remove him from it. Perhaps the child needs
a variety of services plus a friendly relationship with a worker that will
give him a satisfying experience with an adult.
These are but a few random types of situations that clinical study of
children often reveals. The staffs of clinics are usually small. While many
children can be examined, only a limited number can be accepted for treat­
ment. The clinic must turn to other community agencies for assistance in
carrying out its plans for treatment. The effectiveness of the clinic, there­
fore, depends upon the existence of community resources and the coopera­
tion of other agencies. If, for example, after its study of a child, the clinic
finds that he needs foster-home care but there is no agency in the community
that can arrange for his placement, or finds that he needs vocational in­
struction but the school has no facilities for such service, the clinic is ham­
pered in helping that particular child.
The child-guidance clinic can be a most important educative influence in
the community. By interpreting the needs of the individual child to parents,
teachers, nurses, social workers, probation officers, recreation leaders, and
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Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


others dealing with children, it can spread knowledge and understanding
of the principles of mental health that make for a better understanding
of human behavior. It can reach an even wider audience through lectures,
seminars, and radio talks. A few States provide the service of traveling
child-guidance clinics to rural communities.
In a time of crisis there is a tendency to cut down on funds for intangible
services, such as a child-guidance clinic provides. Yet it is in such critical
times that problems are aggravated and break-downs more likely to occur—
times when child-guidance services should be expanded.


What Might Have Been Done
There are many children whose individual disabilities or home conditions
seriously jeopardize their progress toward maturity. These children need
special consideration by the community. Social services, furnished by pub­
lic or private agencies, aré one way by which society can safeguard their
welfare. These services help to give the children not only material aid,
when this is necessary, and the kind of environmental protection needed
to promote their wholesome growth, but also, through the personal interest
and guidance of the social worker, emotional satisfactions to make up to
them for the lack in their lives that might otherwise lead to delinquency.
Jimmy Smith, Tom Kelly, and Peter Taglione might be considered as
such children. Let us see how a community child-welfare program with
adequate social services might have functioned in their situations, and might
have forestalled their delinquent behavior.
For Jimmy.— In Jimmy’s case, community concern for the Smith family
would have started away back when his order brother, Jack, was “ making
trouble” for the teachers. Instead of scolding, demoting, or expelling Jack,
the school would have utilized the services of its school social worker or
visiting teacher, a social case worker trained in mental hygiene, to study
his situation and give the school authorities some understanding o f why he
was misbehaving and what it could do to help him change his ways. Among
other things this worker would have gone to see Jack’s parents. Perhaps
she would have found that the family was behind in the rent and lacked
sufficient food because Mr. Smith was out of work and that Mrs. Smith was
ill and could not look after the children, who were “ running wild” on the
streets. Perhaps the mother would have complained that Mr. Smith was
always quarrelsome and that when he drank he was abusive to her and the
children; that she was also worried about Jimmy, then only 5, who had
temper tantrums when crossed and was always hitting his baby brother.
And Lola, just 7, “ played naughty” with the neighbor boys.
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

The school social worker, however, might have referred Mr. Smith to
the local public-welfare agency which had a broad program of services
including funds for financial assistance to families and trained child-welfare
workers to give specialized case-work services to children. The two workers
from the school and the agency would have cooperated to provide all the
help needed by Jimmy and his family but without duplication of their con­
tacts with the Smiths.
Case work has been described as the art of helping people to help them­
selves. In this situation the child-welfare worker, on the basis of her
specialized knowledge and skill, would have tried among other things to
help Mr. and Mrs. Smith to get along together and to cope with their
children’s problems.
More likely, however, the visiting teacher would have decided that Jack’s
problem was basically a family problem and she would have referred the
Smiths to an agency, whose purpose is to help maintain normal family life.
This agency would then have referred Mr. Smith to a public employment
agency and would have furnished temporary financial assistance until he
could support his family. The agency would have referred Mrs. Smith to a
clinic for medical care and, if necessary would have supplied a supervised
homemaker to look after the children and do the housework during the
mother’s illness. Gradually, through her case-work skill, the social worker
of the family-welfare agency would have established a personal relationship
with Mr. and Mrs. Smith in which they could “ talk out” with her their
differences. Perhaps through gaining some insight into the roots of their
domestic discord they would be able to make a better marital adjustment.
She would also have helped them gain a better understanding of their
children’s needs. Once the parents’ attitudes changed as a result of their
increased insight, the children’s behavior would probably have improved.
If Lola’s and Jimmy’s problems had seemed serious enough to warrant the
attention of a psychiatrist, the case worker would have arranged for them to
he studied at a child-guidance clinic.
In the meantime the visiting teacher would have been giving her attention
to Jack and his problems. In addition to helping his teacher understand
Jack better and working out with her the best way to meet his needs, she
would have made friends with Jack. Through his relationship with an
adult who could accept him even though he was “ bad,” he might have gained
a feeling of security and worth. Or she might have referred him to a
neighborhood boys’ club and explained his difficulties to the group leader,
who would take a special interest in the boy.
A ll the agencies concerned with the Smith family would have cooperated
on a joint plan to the common end of conserving and strengthening its
home life.
For Tom.— The second boy, Tom, needed help long before he started
school. If Mrs, Kelly had attended a parent-education class she might have
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Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


learned that Tom’s bed wetting, far from being only an annoying habit,
may have been a symptom of some emotional disturbance. She would have
taken him to the community child-guidance clinic and there obtained pro­
fessional help. Or, had she been unaware of the clinic’s services, the doctor
to whom she eventually brought Tom for examination would perhaps have
referred her there after he found no physical basis for the habit. Thus the
community could have helped meet Tom’s problems when he was still quite
For Peter.— Peter needed the services of many cooperating social agen­
cies. A family-welfare agency would have arranged for his mother to stay
at home with the children, which she had always wanted to do, instead of
going to work and leaving her three small children without adequate super­
vision, and would have directed her to apply at the local public-welfare de­
partment for aid to dependent children.
The child-welfare worker would also have referred Peter to the State crip­
pled children s agency for medical care. This agency would have arranged
for Peter to be examined at a diagnostic clinic by a child specialist and an
orthopedic surgeon in order to determine what treatment services were neces­
sary for his crippled leg. It then would have arranged for complete
medical care.
The medical social worker of the State crippled children’s agency would
have taken an active interest in Peter from the time he first came to the
clinic. With the cooperation of the family case worker she would have
obtained a history of Peter’s case, including something about his living
conditions, the attitude of his mother toward his physical handicap and
toward the proposed treatment, and the family’ s financial resources. In
this way the surgeon could plan treatment especially suited to Peter’s needs.
If Peter needed hospital care, the State crippled children’s agency would
have arranged for his admission to an approved hospital and treatment by
a competent surgeon. It would also have arranged for his after-care and
for any necessary appliances such as braces or special shoes.
Upon his release from the hospital á local public-health nurse would have
provided follow-up nursing service in Peter’s home. Besides noting Peter’s
progress she would have given Mrs. Taglione instructions for the boy’s care
and for his return to the crippled children’s clinic at periodic intervals so
that he would get the maximum benefit from the surgery.
Eventually the social worker would have enlisted the interest and coopera­
tion of a group leader at the neighborhood settlement house to help Peter
find satisfaction in recreational activities in which his crippled condition
would be no handicap.
In order to obtain a picture of his intelligence, his special abilities and
disabilities, the school would have arranged for Peter to be studied either
b y its own psychological services o r by a child-guidance clinic. On the
basis of the findings the school would have been in a better position to know
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

how much he could accomplish and how best to arrange the school program
to meet his needs.5
Peter’s education and vocational training would have been planned in
the light of his future employability. The services of the State Division
o f Vocational Rehabilitation could have been utilized for vocational guid­
ance and training.
The foregoing discussion of possible services for Jimmy, Tom, and Peter
illustrates a few types of social services that may be provided by the com­
munity: Visiting teachers, family counseling, homemaker service, medi­
cal care and health service, child guidance, public assistance to families
and children, services for crippled children, and vocational rehabilitation.
Many other services, including foster care in family homes or institutions
for those who must be removed from their own homes, are necessary to
give children who are under special disadvantages the care and protection
they need.
There is no fixed pattern by which social services are rendered. They
may be furnished through a variety of channels, such as schools, hospitals,
or social agencies. They may be supported by private or public funds.

Expansion of Child-Welfare Services
There has been a growing conviction that the provision of social services
to children and their families should be basically a public responsibility.
Some public provision for the care and protection of children has been made
to some extent for many years. But after the passage of the Social Security
Act in 1935, local public-welfare agencies, with responsibility for services
to children, began to expand on a broad scale throughout the country. At
the present time every State welfare department makes some provision for
the development o f local child-welfare service. Impetus for the expansion of
this program came from the Federal Government when it provided funds
through the Social Security Act “ for the purpose of enabling the United
States, through the Children’s Bureau, to cooperate with State public-welfare
agencies in establishing, extending, and strengthening, especially in predom­
inantly rural areas, public-welfare services for the protection and care of
homeless, dependent, and neglected children, and children in danger of
becoming delinquent.”
On June 30,1946, State and local public-welfare agencies employed approx­
imately 2,900 persons who devoted full time to child-welfare programs. Of
this number, about 2,200 were child-welfare case workers. Yet child-welfare
6 Since Peter was in an “ opportunity room ” when we met him, it is most likely that he had had the
benefit of psychological service, as schools seldom place a child in a special room without previous psycho­
logical study. His delinquency, despite the school’ s interest, points to the necessity, stressed in previous
sections, for the cooperation of all the community agencies giving basic services to children. No matter
how excellent its efforts might be in improving a child’ s school adjustment, the school alone can be of little
avail in remedying all his difficulties when they are, as in Peter’ s case, so far-reaching and involve so many
other parts of his life.
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Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency

services are not available to great portions of our child population, especially
children in rural areas. Even in the large cities, the child-welfare program
frequently lacks many sorely needed services.
In general, the objective of child-welfare service is the preservation of
home life and the prevention of child dependency, neglect, and delinquency.
To carry out this aim, child-welfare workers perform a variety of services.
They include case-work service to children in their own homes who are
dependent, neglected, mistreated, or in danger of becoming delinquent; to
children in need of foster care; to children who are unusually troublesome
at home, at school, or in the community; and to children in need of treatment
or special services because o f physical or mental handicaps. In some rural
areas all children coming to the attention of the court are referred to the
child-welfare worker for social service. Jimmy, Tom, and Peter, for exam­
ple, had they lived in a rural area where child-welfare services were avail­
able, would have been children with whom the child-welfare worker would
be concerned.

Unevenness of Service
Thousands of children in need of care and protection have been helped
as a result of child-welfare services in their locality. Unfortunately there
are still many communities in which children are being deprived of an
opportunity for normal development because needed services are lacking.
Though this is primarily true of rural areas, it is also true of many cities.
Some cities may have a number of social agencies, but their work may
overlap or there may be gaps in the services offered by the agencies as a
whole. For example, there may be an oversupply of institutions for depend­
ent and neglected children but little or no provision for foster-home care
or for service to children in their own homes.
Often, too, communities make provision for dealing with children like
Jimmy, Tom, and Peter only after they have become a menace to the
community, and do little or nothing to help them before their difficulties
grow serious.

One hope of preventing delinquency and maladjustment

lies in providing resources for discovery and treatment of children headed
for trouble when their problems first show themselves.

Early Diagnosis and Treatment
The experiences of the Children’s Bureau in the operation of a project
in an area in St. Paul, Minn., indicate the value o f such a plan.6


St. Paul project was started in 1937 for the “ purpose of study, research,
and demonstration of the methods and techniques that can be used effectively
6 Helping Children in Trouble. Children’ s Bureau Pub. 320. Washington, 1947.
Community. Children’ s Bureau Pub. 317. Washington, 1946. 182 pp.
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Children in the


Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

in prevention and treatment of delinquency.”
Its staff consisted o f a
psychiatrist, psychologist, case workers, and group workers.
Starting with the premise that the success of preventive measures depends
upon the early recognition o f children showing personality or behavior
disorders, the staff attempted to locate these children by turning to organi­
zations that see the child in his daily routine. Foremost among these was
the school. The schools in the area were asked to let the staff know of
children whose behavior caused the teachers or principals concern. The
staff also worked closely with the police. They were encouraged to refer
for study and treatment as many children and young people who came to
their attention as possible.
As might be expected, at first mostly older children, especially those
showing aggressive behavior that disturbed school routine, were referred.
Gradually younger children, whose difficulties were less serious, were re­
ferred for treatment. In fact, during the later years many of the children
referred were in the primary grades and even in kindergarten. A study
showed that during the first year the median age of referral was 13; that
is, half the children referred were over 13 years of age, half under. In
June 1942 the median age of referral was 10, a drop of 3 years. These
figures indicate that if resources are available and close working relation­
ships are established with the institutions and agencies that have close con­
tact with the child, children can be treated early and this early treatment
measurably increases the chances of correcting existing problems and of
preventing more serious difficulties later.
More planning and experimentation need to be done in working out
methods for the identification and treatment of children when symptoms
of maladjustment first appear.

Toward an Adequate Program
Social services to children whose home conditions or individual difficul­
ties require special attention should be provided in every county or other
appropriate area. The local public welfare department should be able to
provide these services either directly or through the resources of other
agencies. Public and private child-welfare agencies should cooperate in a
program that will assure that every child in need will get proper help, re­
gardless of legal residence, economic status, or race.
The development of good child-welfare services and the coordination o f
the activities of public and private agencies depend upon the support of
informed citizens.

Advisory committees, civic organizations, and clubs

can stimulate public interest in the need for an adequate child-welfare pro­
gram and can help their public-welfare departments maintain high stand­
ards o f service and personnel.
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Jimmy, Tom, and Peter did not have the benefit of adequate community
services when they began being troublesome. Their behavior difficulties
gradually increased. Eventually they fell into the hands of the police.
The traditional concept of the duties of the police is largely one of main­
taining order and suppressing crime, of catching lawbreakers and bringing
them to justice. Actually the police can make a very real contribution to a
community program for the prevention of delinquency.
Because the police are generally the first official persons to have contact
with a child after he has gotten into trouble, their handling o f the situation
at the time may have a marked effect upon the child’ s attitude toward the
law. If they treat him with some understanding, they may help to dispel
the notion many children have that police are hostile, punishing persons, to
be avoided or outsmarted.
On the other hand, if they deal with a child as though he were a criminal,
perhaps handcuffing and jailing him, they may serve to confirm not only his
antagonistic ideas about the police but also his romantic notion of himself
as a heroic “ lone w o lf’ pitted against society. They may make him feel that
he is already a criminal. He may glorify the event later, dramatizing him­
self as a “ tough guy” before his companions for their admiration.
As part of their training, all police officers should be given some knowledge
of the problems of children and of how to cope with them. Since they
dispose of thousands of cases of juveniles without bringing them into court,
they should also be acquainted with all the community resources to which they
might refer children.
The police are probably more familiar than any other organized group
with community conditions that might endanger the safety of young people.
Through regular patrol and supervision of potentially harmful spots, such
as streets, parks, bus stations, dance halls, skating rinks, motion-picture
houses, hotels, night clubs, restaurants, and taverns, the police can help
to check promiscuous activities and to protect young people from demoraliz­
ing influences. In the course of their inspection, the police may find young­
sters working in undesirable places at too early an age, too late at night,
and for too long hours. By reporting violations o f child-labor and liquorcontrol laws to State officials and cooperating with them in the enforcement of
these laws, the police can also help to protect young persons from being
exploited for commercial gain.
Police departments in urban centers should have a special unit devoted
to protective and preventive work. The policemen and policewomen as­
signed to this unit should be trained and experienced in social work as
they will come across many young people who need special attention. It
is not the task of the police to treat these youngsters, but they should
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

be able to recognize the nature o f their problems and know where to send
them for help.

Many people are inclined to think of the juvenile court in terms of
criminal procedure— as a tribunal where young offenders are tried and
punished according to the seriousness of the offense. Although it is a
court in which legal issues are decided and judicial action is taken, the
juvenile court is founded on the principle that all children brought before
it are wards of the State, to be helped and protected rather than punished.
It is concerned not so much with the specific offense for which a child is
brought to court as with the child himself. Why is this particular child
delinquent? What needs to be done to remedy the conditions that gave
rise to his behavior? These are some of the questions the juvenile court
seeks to answer.

Juvenile Court in Practice
Every State has laws that provide either for a juvenile court or for
specialized procedure in children’s cases. But the courts vary markedly
in their administration and in their effectiveness as a community resource.
In some areas the juvenile court is a well-organized social agency. In
other areas children’s cases are heard as cases in a police court are heard.
Let us follow Jimmy Smith through the juvenile court, where he and
his companions were taken by the police after they were caught.

Because he was only 15 Jimmy came under the jurisdiction o f the juvenile
court. The age limit for juvenile-court jurisdiction in the majority of States
is 18 years, though in some States the age limit is only 16 years. In three
States the juvenile court has jurisdiction until the age of 21. A few States
have a higher age limit for girls than for boys.
Stealing tires is a serious offense. Some States require that even though
the boy or girl is a minor, if he commits a serious offense the juvenile court
must turn him over to another court. In other States the juvenile court may
use its own discretion in deciding whether or not it will give up its jurisdic­
tion. In most States, however, the juvenile court has jurisdiction over all
delinquent children regardless of the nature of the offense.

After a boy or girl is brought to the juvenile court by the police, he is
usually allowed to return home until the hearing. Sometimes, however, it
may be necessary to keep a child in detention until then because the child’s
home is seriously harmful to him or because the youngster, as in the case of
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Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


Jimmy, is beyond the control of his parents and might run away if not held.
If children must be held, the detention should be as brief as possible. This
requires a staff large enough to handle cases without delay, that is, to make
prompt investigations, and to hold frequent hearings.
While Jimmy was in the detention home, he was kept busy with specialized
school work and recreational activities. In some places, however, few facil­
ities are provided to keep the children occupied. They merely “ wait” until
their cases are called. In their restlessness and boredom over having nothing
to do they sometimes get into more trouble.
In some localities children are detained in private boarding homes. This
has many advantages over public detention homes. Wherever a group of
children are housed together, they naturally exchange experiences. In a
public detention home, where groups of children are thrown into intimate
contact, ideas that lead to delinquency may be spread from one child to
another. Placement in a private home avoids this danger. It also affords
the child individual attention in a “ homey” atmosphere.
Unfortunately there are still some localities in which children are held in
jails or police stations. Many jails are in shockingly insanitary condition—
often lacking adequate bathing or toilet facilities. Far more serious is the
harm to a child of keeping him in jail, sometimes in the same cell with
hardened adult offenders.
Detention in jail should never be permitted for children under 16. If
older ones are detained in jail upon order of a juvenile-court judge because
their habits or conduct might be a menace to other children, they should be
kept in quarters apart from adults. Adequate provision for the detention
of children, preferably in private boarding homes, should be made in every

Social and Psychiatric Investigation
While Jimmy was in the detention home the probation officer, who is a
social worker on the staff of the court, made a careful study of the boy’s
situation. This included a study of his home and community conditions
surrounding it, the nature of his family relationships, his school experience,
his companions, his interests and activities, and his previous difficulties.
Because he had been “ in trouble” many times, Jimmy was referred to
the court child-guidance clinic for psychological and psychiatric study in
order that the judge might have a deeper understanding of his problem.

Jimmy’s hearing was simple and informal.
with the case were present.

Only those directly concerned

The judge talked in a direct, friendly manner

with Jimmy and his parents, each of whom had a chance to speak for him­

The judge had the findings and recommendations of the probation
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

officer and the clinic. But the final decision for a plan o f treatment rested
with him. On the basis of all the facts he decided that Jimmy could profit
best by institutional placement. So Jimmy Smith was committed to the
State training school for boys.

The judge and his staff are the most important factors in the juvenile
court. The court’s effectiveness depends largely upon their competence
and point o f view.
The judge.— The judge o f the juvenile court is responsible for deciding
upon the legal aspects of the case. He should, therefore, be well trained
in the law. But he must also have an appreciation o f the social and psy­
chological aspects of the case. No one— not even a judge— can himself
encompass the training and knowledge necessary to understand thoroughly
all the facets of a child’s problems. A judge must, therefore, have respect
for other disciplines— medicine, social work, psychology, psychiatry— and
be willing to call upon experts in those fields for their contributions in
order to broaden his own understanding of the case before him. Above
all, a judge of the juvenile court must like children and know how to deal
with them.
The probation officer.— A probation officer should be a qualified social
worker, selected on merit. He, too, must understand children and be en­
dowed with the kind of personality that fits him for his important task. He
should not be so overloaded with work that he is unable to give each child
adequate attention. Some juvenile courts have well-qualified probation
staffs. Others have officers who are political appointees without training
or aptitude for their work.

Though Jimmy was sent to a training school, the majority o f children
passing through the juvenile courts are “ dismissed” after an adjustment of
the case has been made, or returned to their own homes under the super­
vision of the probation officer. That is what happened to Tom and Peter—
they were placed “ on probation.” The probation officer’s job is far more
than “ checking up” to see that the delinquent child is behaving. It is a
job requiring case work. It means giving the child under supervision the
understanding, guidance, and help he needs to get along in his home and
community. It requires training, experience, and natural ability.
The juvenile court, in general, has been under some handicap in suc­
cessfully carrying out this aspect of its work. Although a well-functioning
court is, in a sense, a social agency, it is primarily a legal agency. The
child does not come to it voluntarily; nearly always he is brought against
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Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


his will. He is likely to be suspicious and resentful and to resist treatment.
No matter how sympathetic and understanding the judge and probation
officer may be, to the delinquent boy. or girl they represent figures of authority
with the power of the law behind them.
The attitude of the community, too, hampers the court. Associating the
court with the idea of punishment, the community is likely to exert pressure
on it to “ do something quickly” to change the delinquent child. Under
such pressure the temptation is great to use the power o f authority to make
a child, particularly a “ willful” or rebellious one, behave. Although such a
method may work with some children in curbing further misconduct, most
delinquents need a different kind of approach if they are to modify their
There has been a trend in recent years toward defining more clearly
the place and function of the juvenile court in the community, and toward
relieving it of the responsibility for treatment, especially o f those children
who need case-work service rather than judicial action. In the early days
o f the juvenile court other community resources for treating children’s
problems were few, and the court, in keeping with its socialized approach,
assumed the responsibility for treatment along with its legal functions.
It fell to the probation officer to do the necessary reconstructive work with
the delinquent child and his family.
New treatment services, both public and private, designed to meet the
needs of the individual child, have been gradually developed in the com­
munity. These services can now be used by the court in a cooperative
arrangement. For example, the court, upon investigation of a child’s situa­
tion, might decide that it would be to his best interests to be placed in a foster
home. It would then enlist the cooperation of a child-placing agency to find
a suitable home and give the child the necessary supervision and case-work
Many children who presented behavior problems but who had not vio­
lated the law used to be brought to the juvenile court because there were no
other agencies in the community to deal with them. Since the expansion of
treatment services in the school, the health center, the recreation agency, and
the family-welfare agency, and particularly since the development of public
child-welfare services for children who are dependent, neglected, or in danger
o f becoming delinquent, these children can now in many communities, be
given attention at an early stage without the necessity of a court experience.
Some courts are referring cases directly to social agencies for treatment at
the time complaints are made, if no judicial decision seems warranted. Such
an arrangement, however, can be effective only if the community provides
adequate social resources to meet the needs of all children requiring special

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis


Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

In general, the best place for a child is with his own family. The
majority of parents, even under the most trying conditions, are able to
look after their children and give them the security and protection they
need for their wholesome development. But some parents, either because
o f their own physical, mental, or emotional incapacities, or because of
circumstances beyond their control, fail in this important task. As we
have seen earlier, most delinquents come from such situations.
The community should provide social resources to help parents maintain
a normal family life for themselves and their children whenever possible.
Sometimes, however, it is to the child’s best interests to remove him from
his home and to place him elsewhere. This may be in an institution or in
a family home where the foster parents can give him the care and affection,
the discipline and training he failed to get from his own family. To decide
to remove a child from his home is a momentous step. Of almost equal
responsibility is the question of where, then, to place him. These decisions
should be made only after intensive study o f the child and o f everything that
concerns him.
Before placing a child in a foster home, the strength o f his family ties
must be carefully evaluated. What appears to be a “ terrible” home to
the casual observer may actually have deep values for the child. It may
seem advisable, for example, to remove Johnny Jones, delinquent, from the
dirty two-room hovel where he is living with his five sisters and brothers
and his disreputable mother, and place him in the clean cottage of good
kindly citizens such as the Browns, where he will have a room of his own
and careful supervision. But if his ties to his family are strong, Johnny
might be very unhappy at the Browns, despite their well-meant efforts,
and before too long we might find the boy running back to his mother,
crowded hovel or no. In this case it might be quite the wiser course to help
Johnny’s mother make a better home for the children.
On the other hand, the warmth and understanding that another hoy,
Richard Black, might get from foster parents who accept him without
reservations may be just the answer for this boy, also delinquent, whose
mother never really wanted him and whose wealthy, divorced father has
shown no interest in the boy.
It is no simple matter to select a foster home that will benefit a particular
delinquent child. It takes an understanding o f children, training, and
skill. It should be done only by well-qualified social workers.
Selecting a suitable home is merely the beginning of the difficult task of
the social worker who does child placing. She must prepare a child, who
quite naturally may be fearful of the proposed change, so that he will accept
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Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


the placement willingly. Otherwise, he might be unhappy or run away.
After he is in the foster home, she must continue her relationship with him,
particularly in the trying early days, to ease his adjustment to his new
situation. Through her sustained interest she can give the child a sense
of security and the comforting feeling that he has in her a trusted friend.
She must help his own parents to accept the placement. They may feel
guilty or ashamed over what appears to be their failure to bring up their
own child. Unless she gives them some reassurance and helps them under­
stand the need for placement, they may, perhaps unconsciously, interfere
with or defeat ihe treatment plan. While the child is in the foster home,
the same social worker, or one from a family-welfare agency working co ­
operatively with her, must try to rehabilitate the child’s own home, if
possible, so that he may return to it after benefiting from the foster-home
The social worker must also help the foster parents to accept the child
into their affections and to deal wisely with him however he behaves. She
must continue her contacts throughout his stay in order to guide the foster
parents in helping the child to overcome his difficulties and to encourage them
in their efforts, particularly when his behavior is exasperating.
One cannot stress too often the fact that the essence of successful treat­
ment of a delinquent lies in the building up o f a satisfying personal relation­
ship with an adult whom he loves and who loves him. It does not much
matter if the wallpaper in the foster home is faded and the furniture shabby.
What matters is that the foster parents are understanding people and truly
fond of the child, even when they must use firmness to discipline him.
They must be able to tolerate his bad behavior without feeling that he is
“ ungrateful.” This is a great deal to ask of foster parents, since delinquent
children are often overactive, destructive, and lacking in regard for the
rights of others. But it is better not to place a child at all than to put him
in a home with foster parents who will want him with them only as long
as he is “ good” and refuse to keep him when he is “ bad.” As we have
seen, delinquents are often children who felt unwanted to begin with.
Added rejection by the foster parents would only intensify their sense of
failure and “ unwantedness” and perhaps drive them to further delinquencies.
As part of a coordinated child-welfare program every community should
have a social agency, either public or private, whose function in whole or
in part is foster care of children. Most cities have such services. Until
quite recently many a delinquent child in a rural district whose home was
unsafe for him had to be committed to an institution because the com­
munity had no facilities for foster-home care. Since the expansion of
public child-welfare services in rural areas, many State and local depart­
ments of public welfare are making provisions for such care.
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency

“ It looks like the ‘reform school’ for Jimmy. It’s his fourth time in
juvenile court.”
A delinquent child is apt to be sent to a training school as a last resort
after other methods have failed to improve his behavior, or, in some cases,
because no other treatment resources are available in the community. We
commit delinquent boys and girls, we say, in the hope that the institution
will accomplish what we have been unable to do on the outside. Uncon­
sciously, perhaps, we may be punishing them because they did not respond
to our efforts to help them.
The opportunities that an institution affords for group life in a controlled
environment may be precisely what a certain delinquent child needs at one
stage in his development to help him learn new ways of living. But
such a placement should be made only after the child is carefully studied,
and after it is determined that the type of treatment offered by the institu­
tion can answer his needs at that particular time better than any other type.
It will be remembered that delinquent children are those who have not
learned to abide by society’s rules. The causes behind their inability or
refusal to conform are many and complex. In general, delinquents are the
children who have been deprived of what they need— emotionally, socially,
and sometimes physically deprived. Their delinquencies arise from the
failure of their homes and communities to meet their fundamental needs.
If the training school is to help these children learn to adjust their per­
sonal desires to the demands of the group, so that they may eventually
take their place as socially useful members of the community, it must try
to make up to them for the deprivations they have endured. Obviously,
further disregard of their individual needs by mass regimentation, rigid
discipline, and blanket rules of punishment will not accomplish this end.
Instead of being primarily a place of confinement for juveniles, a training
school for delinquent children must be what its name implies— an educa­
tional institution in the broadest sense. It must prepare boys and girls
for successful living in their homes and their communities. A training
school must help them realize those potentialities for growth and achieve­
ment that their unfortunate previous experiences had stunted and perverted.
To achieve this purpose the emphasis of the training school must be focused,
not upon keeping order or upon the cost of maintenance, but upon meet­
ing the needs o f every child it receives.
A good training school would give opportunities for a well-rounded home
and community life. For example, it would arrange for the children to
live in cottages with a house mother, house father, and small groups of
children similar in age and interests. Cottage life can never be a satisfactory
substitute for family life. But it can give these children some of the values
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Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


of home life, which many of them have never known. It can teach them
orderly habits of social living and the give-and-take of group life. It can
give them contact with understanding adults who accept them and whom they
can accept. For some delinquents the greatest benefit of cottage life lies in
the security and recognition they may find in their relationship with the
cottage parents.
Neat grounds, attractive curtains at the cottage windows, and wellplanned meals, though they are important, do not make a good institution.
Nor do up-to-date buildings, a broad curriculum, and well-equipped shops
to train young people for trades, necessary though these are. Despite the
most modern architecture and the best equipment, if those in charge of the
children regard them as “ bad” boys and girls who must be “ reformed”
and taught obedience through fear of punishment, or merely as charges
to be supplied with shelter, regular meals, and clean linen, the children
will profit little from their institutional experience. No aspect of the
institutional program is so important as the quality o f its personnel.
Only as an institution’s cottage parents, teachers, and administrators are
themselves mature and able to control the natural desire to dominate their
charges by virtue of their authoritative position— only as they are sensitive
to the needs of boys and girls and can respect their personalities— can an
institution hope to bestow any lasting benefits upon the children.
It is thus of the utmost importance that training schools be staffed with
men and women of well-integrated personalities who have a genuine fond­
ness for children. A child can accept discipline and can profit from it if
he knows that the person administering it is fair and has an abiding regard
for him.
Many children who are delinquent have such severe emotional, mental,
and physical handicaps that they should never be sent to training schools.
Not only are such children unable to profit by the training school experience,
but they often disrupt the program for the other children. Yet many severely
handicapped children are committed to training schools because the com­
munity has no other means of caring for them. Special institutions or
treatment facilities especially adapted to meet the needs of these children
should be established for them.
But many training schools are failing with some of the children they
should be expected to serve. Many “ graduates” continue their delinquent
behavior. Of the several factors that account for this, perhaps the most
important is the failure of many training schools to live up to what should
be their first objective— the reeducation of children whose energies have
been misdirected. Some schools still cling to confinement and punishment
as methods of treatment. In others, despite the outward manifestations
of modern procedure, lingering attitudes of “ reform” prevail. Children
exposed to such treatment often take little with them upon their release
but a deepened resentment against authority.
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Understanding Juvenile Delinquency


Retraining children whose behavior is serious enough to warrant their
removal from the community is a difficult task. It is also an expensive
one, if lasting results are to be obtained. Many training schools are handi­
capped in doing a good job because they do not have enough funds to
employ and keep qualified personnel or to provide adequate equipment.
Citizens interested in child welfare should see that their legislators appropri­
ate sufficient funds for training schools to permit them to obtain these two
«ssentials to constructive reeducation of the boys and girls in their care.
One o f the drawbacks of many institutions has been their isolation from
the communities from which the delinquent children came and to which
they must return. All too often children are released from the training
school only to return to the very conditions that gave rise to their difficulties.
Before long they again fall prey to the destructive forces that provoked
their previous delinquency. If its program is to be really effective, the
training school must be a part of an integrated child-welfare program to
remedy the situation to which the child will return. It must work closely
with other community agencies to prepare the child’s family and community
to receive him.
After returning home, the child will need encouragement and guidance
in making the necessary adjustments. Unfortunately considerable stigma
is still attached to a training-school experience. The child must be helped
to face the prejudice and suspicion of the community— and sometimes even
of his family— because he has been in a “ reform school.” The person in
charge of the delinquent’s aftercare, whether he is attached to the training
school, the State department of public welfare, or a local agency, should
be a well-qualified social worker with the ability and time to give those
under his supervision the attention and care they require.
The community itself must be educated to receive with good grace boys
or girls who have been in a training school. It must recognize its re­
sponsibility not only toward helping these youngsters to reestablish them­
selves as useful members of society, but even more important, toward pre­
venting those conditions that give rise to their delinquency in the first place.

Just as there is no one cause for delinquency, so there is no one method
of prevention. The causative factors, as we have seen, are multiple and
complex and our attack must likewise be many-sided.
No one program or any one agency can be of much avail. All com­
munity services that are concerned with the welfare o f children— churches,
schools, recreational centers, health services, child-guidance clinics, and the
various public and private social services— must be utilized. But they must
do more than perform their specific function. They must plan and work
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Prevention and Treatment of Delinquency


together in a coordinated program based upon the 24-hour needs o f all the
community’s children. Such a program would aim to fill gaps in essential
services, to eliminate duplication of effort, and to make the best possible
use of community resources.
There must be some form of community organization through which this
coordination can be accomplished. “ Community organization” is the means
by which representatives from community agencies and institutions, both
public and private, and from citizen groups can jointly study the needs of
the community and make plans to meet them. Councils of social agencies,
and community chests are examples of the group effort known as com­
munity organization.
The task of preventing delinquency cannot be delegated solely to experts.
It takes the united effort of everyone in the community. As citizens we
must take vigilant interest in the community life that affects our children.
We can join with other citizens in comflnunity groups, whether they be
parent-teacher associations, church groups, service clubs, women’s clubs, or
labor unions, to study local conditions, plan for their improvement, and
translate plans into action. W e can volunteer our services in recreation
centers, nurseries, clinics, and many other child-caring agencies left shorthanded by the war. We can serve on the boards o f social agencies and
help to interpret their work to the community and the community’s needs
to them. We can give financial support to agencies doing a good job.
These are a few of the many contributions citizens can make to a com­
munity program for the prevention of delinquency. Only as all citizens
develop a sense of civic responsibility and participate with others for the
common good can we hope to achieve the kind of community life in which
delinquency will have small chance to flourish.


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