Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'Can these puppets prevent juvenile crime?'

The title of this post is the headline of an interesting item from's Criminal Justice Blog, where Matt Kelley points to:
a video of a talk by Theodore Beauchaine, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, who says that brain science can predict criminal activity in some kids and should be a factor in targeting treatment. Treatment for kids with signs of hyperactivity, when it's delivered by age three, can decrease the chance they'll land in the juvenile justice system by 75 percent, he said. And one of the approaches that's working is - you guessed it - puppets.

The Incredible Years is a program for young kids that uses the puppets above - and other techniques - to train hyperactive and aggressive kids in social skills. The program was developed by another University of Washington professor, Carolyn Webster-Stratton, and it has been remarkably effective.

Kelley's piece turned me on to some interesting resources on the topic of juvenile justice, brain science and early childhood development. This afternoon I watched this video titled "Brain Science as a Means of Understanding Delinquency and Substance Abuse in Youth," and here's another hour-long video I want to view soon on the use of puppets as an early childhood intervention technique.

Prof. Beauchaine's talk was especially enlightening because he believes criminogenic risk factors can be identified in kids as young as age 3, while most interventions involving delinquent youth don't begin until, at the earliest, the middle school period. By that time, he said, evidence shows the most common interventions actually increase crime. If Beauchaine's diagnostic methods are sound, shifting more resources toward prevention in early childhood could be a promising approach, particularly since it's not nearly as resource intensive as later interventions by the justice system once kids start committing crimes. Interesting stuff.


Anonymous said...

Complete nonsense! You want to know why kids end up in the juvenile system? Go meet their parents. I deal with it everyday.

I hope TJPC doesn't get ahold of this or we may end up with mandatory puppet shows!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yeah, what nonsense ... especially since what y'all and TYC are doing is working so goddawful well ... ;)

You may want to debate Nature vs. Nurture, but perhaps, sometimes, the answer is "both."

Watch the video on the brain science research before dismissing it out of hand.

Anonymous said...

You posed the question: "Can puppets prevent juvenile crime?"

The answer is NO, they cannot.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If you haven't watched the linked videos you don't know what you're talking about and your opinion isn't very valuable.

Neuroscience is going to change behavioral science forever, like it or not. Try learning and thinking instead of merely asserting.

Anonymous said...

As long as early identification and treatment is based on an increased probability (not a certainty) of later delinquency and treatment is protective rather than prescriptive and avoids labeling it may be useful. The danger is if it becomes prescriptive and labels are attached at the age of 3.

We are learning a lot about the brain and neuroscience opening new doors of understanding.

Behavior has always been a combination of nature, nurture and free will. Who we are and what we have done in our lives reflects a combination of innate potentialities passed down through our genetic history (nature), external influences over which we have had little control (nurture -- e.g., the neighborhoods our parents lived in as we grew up) and our personal choices. Nature and nurture create probabilities (not certainties) from factors that are largely outside individual control. Did anyone choose their parents or select the parenting style they used to raise them?

We need to be open to new theories and credible evidence that may improve justice policy. The opposite is to be closed and stagnant on the assumption that we know all we need to know. The world has not and does not work that way.

Anonymous said...

"If you haven't watched the linked videos you don't know what you're talking about and your opinion isn't very valuable."

I don't know what I am talking about? LOL, Partner, I work with troubled youth and their families for a living. I would like to think I have a little insight into the problem. So trust me when I say puppets are not the answer.

Anonymous said...

How about making the parents watch the puppets?

Anonymous said...

Hey Anon 10:09 - from your comments I feel sorry for the kids you work with. You may have some work experience but your comments don't show much knowledge or insight. What they do show is cynicism -- which is highly destructive to correctional clients and sets the stage for revocation as a self fullfilling prophesy. If you expect the worst you will get it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting lecture. I liked the fact that he said special education often makes kids worse.

I see the future as being one where we lock up criminals so they won't pass their dysfunctional dopemine systems to futher generations.

Anonymous said...

10:52 - I assure you there is no reason to feel sorry for the kids and families that I work with. I wish the problem could be fixed with the 'Bert and Ernie' Approach, but unfortunately, the problem is much bigger.

I did not watch the video because I have seen videos just like it, I am already sold on the concept. But the reality is, 1 hour with the puppets does not negate the other 23 hours spent with families that neglect the childs needs. And I am not talking about physical needs (food, shelter, clothing); I am talking about hugs, kisses, and affection.

I have long said the solution to the problem is keeping the kids in the community and placing the parents outside the home.

If I had been raised by the parents I deal with daily, I probably would have been in the same boat as these kids; therefore, I have sympathy for many of the kids that come through our doors.

Anonymous said...

This can work. My teenager says he'd walk the straight and narrow just to avoid having to watch the puppet show.

Anonymous said...

Hey Grits ... like the subject and I will watch video when I have time ..... I work in juvenile justice and think about the nature vs. nurture stuff all the time .... Problem is I think the Nurture part just plays such a bigger role if you see some of the situations these kids are in ... They can have everything "Nature wise" but they are doomed because the nurture part is so bad.

Many times we can have influence over the nurture part with these kids but it is very difficult to get families to change.

We work to change one kid/family at a time.

Also I do take some offense to your comment about what yall and TYC are doing is working so goddawful well. Don't understand that statement to be honest. Is juvenile crime on the rise in Texas, are committments to TYC up?

Your statement implies we're doing a shitty job and I just don't see it. Maybe you should shed a little light for us?

Brody said...

My mother is a professional ventriloquist, and I'm a juvenile prosecutor. I can honestly say I have no idea which one of us has more impact on troubled kids. I'd venture to say that it's her.

Anonymous said...

I've read some of this research. It's already revealed a lot to us that we didn't know before. Ironically, it has validated some of the assertions of the Progressive-era reformers who invented juvenile justice.

I used to show a documentary film in my classes called "Inside the Teenage Brain" that is by now probably dated - I think 2001 or so. Still probably a good introduction to this science for the uninitiated.

Bill B.

Anonymous said...

I should add that I'm frankly amazed that TYC people wouldn't support any form of early intervention that might have constructive possibilities.


Anonymous said...

It is sad to see how arrogant and close minded people are. Of course the problem is multifaceted and this program will not end conduct problems and juvenile delinquency. I think the first record of juvenile conduct problems can clearly be found in the book of Genesis (i.e.,the first sibling pair), those two parents sure were awful, i mean if eating an apple can lead to murder no wonder we have so many problems with child conduct and juvenile delinquency.

Please people. This is a multifaceted program. It is designed for use with parents, teachers and children. the interesting part is that using the part of the program, only with the children, has been shown to reduce conflict with peers and conduct problems at home and school. While the program is showing promise, it has a long way to go.

By definition this neuroscience mindset only addresses a portion of the youth who become delinquent. Many delinquent youth show no early signs of problems and are referred to as "adolescent onset delinquents." The other youth who show problems at an early age have largely been neglected in terms of intervention research. Early intervention with this population is clearly the key. What do you want them to do with 3, 4, and 5 year olds, scare them straight? I think puppets are a much better mode of intervention.

Anonymous said...

I will add that the condemn the parents mentality will only perpetuate the problem, as parents of youth who have problems will want to have nothing to do with you, thus ensuring a lack of collaboration and training with parents. hmmm. sounds like a brilliant approach.

Anonymous said...

The program sounds good, just don't use taxpayer dollars to implement it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, your right! absolutely!
we wouldn't want to waste a small amount of taxpayer dollars on prevention. In Texas we prefer to wait to spend the money until they are in prison. Brilliant!!

I am not saying this program has sufficient support for widespread funding but sure looks like they have a great start and are on the right track.

RAS said...

Sounds good! Who's going to pay for it? How many times do they watch the puppets between ages 3 and 12? Who decides which kids to evaluate? There are probably half a million kids 3 years old. If you evaluat 10% at $100.00 per that is 5 million a year. If half of those need the puppets at $20.00 per session then it's $500,000.00 per session just for the 3 year olds. How many sessions per week for how many months or years? Several facilities have had jobs for therapists posted for 4 months up to over a year. Does anyone really believe the lege is going to pony up the money to make this work when they wont even anti up what it takes to meet the requirements they mandated in SB 103?

Anonymous said...

I think there are smart people who could probably figure out how to start a selective/pilot type program in Texas. Certainly 10 percent of all 3 year olds is not a realistic or even justifiable goal. How about identifying the counties with the highest rates of school failure and delinquency and start implementation there? Probably could set things up for a while, to demonstrate effectiveness, with very limited state dollars.

Anonymous said...

I bet you could even find a way to identify those kids with hyperactivity and aggression problems. You know, the ones the program was designed for?

RAS said...

Who identifies the aggression problems, the day care operator? Do you think less then 10% of 3 year olds are hyper or ready to fight over a toy? How many sessions overcome the influence of genetics or disfunctional parents?