Today’s Problem – YOUTH

R.C.M.P. January, 1949 p. 118 – 120

Today’s Problem – YOUTH

By Cst. N. J. McKenzie

This academic study of the youth problem as it pertains to the policeman strikes a new note in its approach and points out that more money spent on crime prevention would result in an all around economy.

Juvenile delinquency control is the supervision and care of boys and girls under the age of 16 years. There are generally two types of delinquents – dependent children and neglected children. Dependent applies to a child whose parents are unable, for various reasons, to provide proper care for him; neglected implies either some fault or omission on the part of the parents in supervision and training, or some overt action which might impair the child’s welfare.

The neglected child is the most difficult of the two to deal with, as it necessitates measures entirely different from those to which he has been accustomed and incurs separation for his parents. This separation is permissible under law – in fact one section of the criminal code deals entirely with this matter – and when it takes place the child becomes a ward of the Government. In such an event the social agency handling the case has undisputed control or jurisdiction over the child, yet the right of parents is an inherent one, and they may appeal to the Court if they care to do so. The youth associations are interested primarily in the welfare of the child, and though it is difficult to estimate their success in round figures, it is generally conceded that they are doing a very worthwhile work.

The tender years of life, as they are often referred to, are the building years, and it is then that foundations for the future are laid. A child is sharp to observe and pass comment on what he sees, especially when he starts mixing with other children in the neighbourhood. That is the time of life when home environment is most influential, and if the right tuition has been given during the first years, the character of the child will manifest itself towards what is right and turn from wrong.

All child training should have as its objective the making of good citizens, and before we can profitably set to the task, we must determine what type of citizen we mean by good. With that fixed in mind we then direct our efforts to help the child learn what is best for him and train him in that direction, our part being to guide him in the preliminary stages then encourage him to do for himself as soon as he is capable.

Delinquency more or less assumes a given pattern, and there are numerous symptoms which indicate this. For instance, irregular attendance at school, conflict with the authorities, undesirable personality traits, academic difficulties, failure to observe set routine and regulations, living in a world of fantasy. By these symptoms – showing a general disapproval of things – the child is calling for help, but unfortunately parents too often are so busy with other matters they don’t notice their child’s predicament, leaving him to cope with the situation himself and losing an opportunity to provide help which would be extremely beneficial in character building.

The treatment of delinquency has long been recognized as a community responsibility, and though in some cases the authority of the Court has been found necessary, this should be resorted to only after the social worker has exhausted every known method of correction. It should be remembered that when a minor is a delinquent, that very fact indicates all is not well with him and that he is in need of understanding and guidance.

The policeman’s contact with a child will differ from that of the school teacher or the social worker. He sees the child only in isolated instances, and unless a close study of the delinquent is made, he is not in a position to say whether or not the child will repeat his offences. The same thing applies to the Court, therefore it is imperative that considerable groundwork be done in each individual case, preferably by a social worker assisting the policeman. For instance, there could be, and likely is, a marked difference in the motive of two boys guilty of breaking a window – one boy breaks a window on impulse because it affords a satisfying target. The other breaks it as a means of flaunting his disregard for all rules. The first boy would not require as much social guidance as the second.

In general the contributions made by law enforcing agencies in this work will vary from those of the school. No hard and fast rules can be laid down, but in most cases both these agencies, especially the latter as it is there that the child spends the greater part of his early life, detect the symptoms of delinquency long before the parents do. This is no reflection on the parents, for it is only natural that they see only the good in their child, while the policeman and the teacher, in the interest of taking preventive steps if necessary, are constantly on the watch for the opposite.

It seems to me that the day is not far off when Canadian police departments and forces will require a special branch to deal solely with delinquents. In fact such branches are now operating in the United States in conjunction with the various agencies already in the field. The operators are specially trained, wear plain clothes and use unmarked cars. While carrying out their duties, which consist of assisting the agencies, supervising certain groups, obtaining employment for idle hands and so on, every endeavour is made to keep from the public eye the boy or girl who has done wrong.

No better formula for crime prevention can be adopted than prompt detection, vigorous checking and thorough investigation, and this is most applicable in juvenile delinquency. In view of this, it would seem that the police should have full authority to make arrests when necessary, interview and investigate all cases of delinquency, and when detention is required it should be under the most favourable conditions possible. Later, if the delinquent’s behaviour warrants it, he can be released to his home on probation, and the follow-up work continued.

The police should feel justified in assuming leadership in the recreational movements set up for the benefit of delinquents in their district. If, however, conditions are such that this is not possible, they should at least assist in this commendable work. Recreation, although not a cure-all for delinquency, is by far the most effective step in preventing it. By recreation I mean controlled recreation, and providing it to meet the needs of Youth, regardless of color, creed or social standing, is a year-round responsibility of the community. It should receive major attention by all civic-minded clubs and organizations, and in planning it, the youths themselves must not be overlooked. They should be consulted and when possible appointed to the various committees, as this is an excellent method of training them for leadership in future life. Youth needs not only recreation but responsibilities.

It is a known fact that we are paying a tremendous amount of money for the care of criminals, while perhaps not enough for the prevention of crime. By this I mean we should spend more on good homes, substantial incomes and city planning in respect to playgrounds and schools, as all these, according to knowledge gained by extensive study and investigation, have their place in the programme of crime prevention.

The general public can help by abandoning the practice of finding fault and recognizing the fact that the causes of delinquency are natural, that the problems of a delinquent child are the problems of all children. The social needs of a child, such as security, proper home conditions, affection of parents and companions, mean as much to him as food and warmth. Therefore it is necessary to study the delinquent not as an individual but as an integral part of the community, his home, school, church and environment. Responsibility for this rests with adults and society.

There is no single cause for delinquency; each case usually begins in early childhood which is considered the time most significant in the development of personality and character. It is only through study that we will be able to decide why some young people are unable to resist the influence of bad companions and the temptations of everyday life, while others continue automatically to do the right thing.

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