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«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»

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Some have recently suggested that the link between family structure, including family size, and delinquent behaviour is inconclusive and point to other influential factors. Hoffmann (2006) found that whilst disruptive children do come from ‘non-traditional’ families there is no proven evidence that family structure alone causes delinquent behaviour; other factors, such as neighbourhood characteristics, were found to be as influential. He found that children living in impoverished neighbourhoods with high levels of ethnic variance and male unemployment were likely to experience behavioural problems irrespective of family structure (Hoffmann, 2006:867). In other words, children growing up in ‘socially disorganised’ communities but living in a traditional, two-parent household are as likely to develop delinquent behaviour as those from single-parent families (Hoffmann, 2006).

3.2.3 Family structure and gang membership

Hoffmann’s findings echo those of research carried out by gang researchers. Short and Strodtbeck’s (1965) work on group processes and gang delinquency in Chicago found, for instance, that, whilst a large number of gang members came from ‘non-traditional’ families, a significant proportion came from two-parent households. Similarly, Moore’s contemporary studies on Latino gang membership in Los Angeles found that just over a third (37%) of gang members came from ‘traditional’ families who owned their own homes (Moore, 1991).

Indeed, as Vigil notes, only 1 in 10 youths living in impoverished neighbourhoods join gangs (Vigil, 1988, 2003). Hagedorn’s research in Milwaukee from the early 1990s onwards produced findings consistent with Moore’s. He found that one in four (25%) of both male and female gang members came from conventional two-parent families who were homeowners (Hagedorn, 1991). In the UK, a longitudinal study on youth transitions and crime conducted by Smith and Bradshaw (2005) found a similar pattern regarding family structure and gang membership. Their study revealed that whilst a significant proportion of gang members in the cohort came from ‘non-traditional’ families (23%), nearly one in five (18%) gang-affiliated youths lived with both parents.

3.2.4 The parent–child relationship and its relation to delinquent behaviour

The conflicting picture regarding family structure and delinquency has led some scholars to suggest that family structure is less influential than the quality of the relationship between parent and child. Joan McCord’s study of 232 boys showed how positive interaction between parent and child insulated against delinquency and crime (McCord, 1991:411).

Children of confident, engaged and encouraging mothers with high expectations were less likely to become involved in delinquency than those whose mothers lacked these characteristics. Interestingly, the father’s influence on the child’s behaviour was less important than the mother’s when the child was young but increased as the child matured (McCord, 1991:412). Additionally, the behaviour of father towards the mother was as important as the father’s behaviour towards the child. McCord found that the behaviour of the father towards the mother, whether positive or negative, influenced the child’s behaviour. Fathers who demonstrated a capacity for mutual respect engendered these characteristics in their children; those who were aggressive and antisocial provided deviant role models for their children. In other words, both showed children how to behave (McCord, 1991:411). This finding is important because it challenges the discourse, such as Murray’s above, that suggests lone women are principally responsible for their children’s engagement in delinquency and criminality by not being able to rear them properly.

McCord’s study suggests that fathers who are present but whose influence is negative can also be instrumental in encouraging delinquent behaviour.

3.2.5 The parent–child relationship and gang membership

Findings from research suggest that positive experiences between parent and child discourage criminality. Control theory as developed by Hirschi (1969) provides a general explanation that might help explain why this relationship is important. When the bond between parents and their children is strong, children grow up attached to their families and, beyond this, become committed to the values of the wider society. If healthy and strong, this bond makes children less inclined to engage in harmful practices such as delinquency, not only because they have been taught that this is wrong but because they identify with their families and do not want to engage in acts that might cause them to suffer. By contrast, where no bond exists, attachment to the family is weak and young people are more likely to deviate and become involved in crime, lacking commitment to formal institutions (Hirschi, 1969).

Support for this theory can be found in a number of studies on urban street gangs. These studies point to a range of factors that can impact negatively on child–parent relationships and weaken the bond, or attachment, between parent(s) and child. According to a study published by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency (Finkelhor et al, 2009)

examples of disruptive influences include:

 parental absenteeism;

 authoritarian and/or erratic parenting style;

 substance (alcohol and drugs) abuse;

 domestic violence; and  child sexual abuse.

Where these tend to be found, not only is the bond between parent(s) and child adversely affected, but the child is more likely to display delinquent behaviour in later life.

Moore’s empirical research into gang members (1991) provides some supporting evidence for this thesis. Moore discovered high levels of physical and sexual victimisation in the families of gang members, much of it directed at the children, particularly female children.

Her research also found that more than half of the gang members whom she interviewed were afraid of their fathers. Corporal punishment and other forms of violence seem to have been commonplace in such families (Moore, 1991).

Similarly, Bourgois (1995) and Miller (2001) identified prolific family violence, in particular sexual violence, amongst gang members. Miller, in her analysis of female involvement in gangs, noted that a significant number of young women had witnessed domestic violence in the home or had been abused (sexually and physically) by family members (Miller, 2001).

These young women were also more likely to have witnessed drug and alcohol abuse.

Indeed 60% of young women in her sample came from families with multiple problems (Miller, 2001:37). Following scholars such as Moore (1991) and Campbell (1984), Miller surmised that girls joined gangs to escape their family environment and to find a refuge from abuse (Miller, 2001).

As well as physical abuse, research has shown that the quality of the parent–child relationship may be affected by a lack of positive interaction between parents and their children. Research has found that a lack of parent–child interaction between boys and their parents – particularly the father’s disengagement from his son’s leisure pursuits – is a strong predictor of antisocial behaviour (Hawkins et al, 1998).

Factors that might also impact negatively on the quality of this interaction include parental absence from the home (for example parents working away for long hours or being imprisoned), emotional unavailability and/or lack of physical capacity to respond to the needs of their child(ren). These factors may derive from depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, chronic illness, disability, separation and bereavement (Gutman, 2002; Silverstein and Ruiz, 2006; Young, 2009).

Inadequate parental supervision has also been identified as a potential causal factor in child deviance. For example, an inability to supervise and establish appropriate boundaries has been identified as a potential risk factor for gang membership (Loeber and Farrington, 1998; Thornberry, 1998). Shute (2008) draws attention to the numerous ways in which overly punitive or permissive forms of discipline can also be detrimental to a child’s behaviour. Citing several studies (Glueck and Glueck, 1950; West and Farrington, 1977) he illustrates how overly harsh, neglectful or erratic parenting styles can contribute or lead to antisocial behaviour and may contribute to gang membership.

Of equal importance to the debate is the dynamism of the parent and child relationship. As noted by McCord (1991) this relationship is not static; it changes over time. Parental influence on the child invariably wanes as the child matures and builds relationships with other people who in later years might influence their behaviour more significantly than parents. As Williams notes, adolescent desire to strike out from the family and become an independent individual in control of one’s own life may cause a young person to accord less importance to parental attempts at supervision and to seek to exert more power over their own life (Williams, 2004:345).

3.3 The role of familial criminality or tacit endorsement of criminality as an influential factor So far we have considered how issues such as family breakdown or conflict within the family might influence gang formation and membership. Here we consider the link between familial criminality and gang membership. Studies on delinquency have consistently found a link between delinquent parental behaviour and youthful criminality. Burr (1987), for example, in her ethnographic study of young heroin users in South London, found that the majority of young people in her sample grew up in households where family members shared a positive attitude towards drug taking or similar forms of law-breaking behaviour.

3.3.1 Familial gang membership

Some researchers have claimed that families’ positive attitudes towards gangs encourages young people to become involved in gang groups (Maxson and Whitlock, 2002) and promotes intergenerational gang membership (Rutter and Giller, 1983; Thornberry et al, 2003). Studies conducted by Moore (1991) and Vigil (1988) show a history of intergenerational gang membership amongst families in Los Angeles. However, gang research, such as that conducted by Decker and Van Winkle (1996) in St Louis, did not.

This suggests that familial involvement in gangs may vary according to geographic location.

Of the 99 gang members interviewed, 12 had fathers who were in gangs; more had a ganginvolved brother and in one case both parents were gang members (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996:233).

3.3.2 Family influence on gang membership

What is important to note from Decker and Van Winkle’s study is that whilst some of the gang members had gang-involved relatives none of the respondents with a gang-involved parent cited their involvement as a reason for joining a group nor did they disclose any parental encouragement (Decker and Van Winkle, 1996:233). In contrast, a sibling’s involvement in gangs, typically a brother, was a contributory factor. Half of the St Louis gang members interviewed had a brother involved in a gang; over a third said that their brother had encouraged them to join.

Decker and Van Winkle’s findings echo those of earlier studies that showed that younger siblings joined gangs because of their brothers’ and cousins’ involvement (see Moore, 1991; Bourgois, 1995). It would be a mistake, however, to presuppose that having a brother in a gang inevitably leads to gang membership. There were gang members in Decker and Van Winkle’s research who did not have a gang-involved brother, while those with ganginvolved brothers did not always cite this as part of their decision to join.

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