In Study Circle 3, we build on information gathered and discussed previously, taking steps to more clearly identify targeted concerns in each local area. We then examine special populations within the community that may provide clues about what, when, and where to start in reducing hurdles for at-risk youth and their families.
When we refer to "specialized populations," we mean groups of youth who are in a category known to exhibit heightened vulnerability to risk for justice involvement. The majority of young people in the US grow up in relatively healthy and safe environments. Most live with parents who provide for them, attend schools that prepare them for self-sufficiency, and many get assistance during the transition to adulthood.
At some level, all youth may experience some risk, primarily because of two primary factors: First, adolescence is a time of experimentation and growth, not always in a straight-line fashion. Second, our culture, laws, and customs are constructed so that certain behaviors not considered criminal when conducted by adults are treated as delinquent when conducted by youth. We make no particular judgment about these customs here, but do acknowledge that practices and laws vary widely by culture and, sometimes, by jurisdiction within the US.
Regardless, situations and transitions for vulnerable, at-risk youth populations are considerably more complex, often complicated by several challenges, including family conflict, drug abuse, a host of sources of trauma, and all to often, detachment from their community and from society as a whole. The most severe kinds of trauma and negative outcomes are linked to being ostracized from one's "tribe." For example, we know that feral children without close attachment and meaningful social interaction fail to develop a personality.
The study of these specialized populations of vulnerable youth is wide and deep; a full treatment is beyond the scope of our study here. But what we can do is observe a few well-established facts regarding the link between such at-risk groups and juvenile delinquency as defined by our current laws and practices. We can also acknowledge that certain groups are shown to be treated differently from others, based on these group characteristics. (If you're interested in this research, see the document "The Saints and the Roughnecks" in the supplemental section.)
In Study Circle 3, this is what we do. We assemble and review some Fact and Action sheets based on certain group identities and research on justice involvement -- this is the rational approach. In addition, and perhaps even more important, we see a few stories and portrayals of the human cost associated with such social/delinquency connections. This is the emotional side of the problem, which we can often more easily relate to. Taken together, we think you'll arrive at a deeper understanding of the link between certain youth populations and so-called "delinquent" outcomes. The groups we review include:
Several of these characteristics may form a web of identity that is not simply additive, but that interact in critical ways. Imagine, for example, that a white middle-class young male athlete with a secure family environment may experience a sexual identity "crisis" differently than one from a less-educated poor family. Or that a young woman from the "wrong side of the tracks" may be perceived differently in her choices than one from a well-positioned family whose father is the town mayor. In other words, it's complicated!
Please proceed through the outline for SC3, first reading the Fact and Action sheets, then taking some time to review the videos. I think you'll have some food for thought!