Perceptions of family functioning and its impact on juvenile offending.

Harrison, Leandra
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Crime committed by youth within South Africa is a problem of growing concern. Family environments are seen as powerful putative factors in the development of offending behaviour. On the basis of family systems theory, it was postulated that juveniles are influenced by the reciprocal interactions amongst family members as it shapes their development. Kohlberg’s theory of moral development illustrates that the formation of morals is influenced by the quality of relationships within family units. This study therefore explored juvenile delinquent’s perceptions of their families and the impact it had on their offending behaviour. The subjective world of these offenders was focused upon within the qualitative paradigm through an exploration of their experiences. This method was deemed significant as it attempted to understand these delinquents in terms of their own definitions of their family lives in order to provide an in-depth and insightful account into how they perceived their families to have influenced their behaviour. Eleven juvenile offenders, aged between 15 and 21 attending a diversion programme participated in the study. The research was conducted in the form of semi-structured individual interviews where various themes relating to the family were explored. The participants’ responses were recorded and analysed utilising thematic content analysis. The participants perceived their families to potentially act as a contributing factor in the development of their criminal behaviour. Specific aspects, namely different family forms, family relationships, patterns and response styles, as well as families levels of emotional involvement were all perceived to have impacted on their delinquent behaviour. Although none of these factors can be considered in isolation, a complex interplay of these family characteristics may significantly contribute to the development of asocial behaviour. In contrast to these findings, areas of contestation also arose from participants’ talk. Despite their delinquency and the potential contribution of the family, some participants identified the family to act as a protective factor and thus not influencing their involvement in criminal acts. Aside from the family, other influences such as peer groups and community violence were also identified as potential risk factors for juvenile delinquency. Therefore although an important contributing factor, the family cannot be considered in isolation when attempting to identify what may lead these juveniles to engage in criminal acts.
Juvenile delinquents, Family, Systems Theory, Family relationships, Family patterns, Family emotional involvement