Do paid advocates prevent juvenile delinquency better than volunteers?

Teens

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(Jan. 17, 2012) -- Supported by a two-year, $280,000 grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, researchers J. Mitchell Miller in the UTSA College of Public Policy Department of Criminal Justice and Michael J. Karcher in the UTSA College of Education and Human Development Department of Counseling will partner with the international nonprofit Youth Advocate Programs Inc. to study professional advocacy as a treatment for chronic juvenile delinquency.

In Texas, the most serious and chronically delinquent offenders are sent to the Texas Youth Commission (TYC). According to the TYC's most recent statistics (2009-2010), 93 percent of those youth were boys, 44 percent were admitted gang members and the group's average age was 16. In addition, 72 percent had high or moderate need for alcohol or other drug treatments. The group also had a sixth grade median reading level.

"Mentoring is widely accepted as a delinquency deterrent, however few in the field really understand what advocacy looks like, particularly for the youth who need it most, those right on the cusp of a criminal career," said Karcher. "This study will provide a picture of what advocacy for delinquent youth looks like, and it should reveal the elements of advocacy that are most helpful. We expect the findings to help mentors across the country hone their skills and boost their impact on the youth they mentor."

When compared to general youth mentoring, youth advocacy is an intense form of support. It generally takes place over a shorter time frame than mentoring, and it requires the participation of people from different parts of the youth's life such as parents, family members, teachers, advocate program administrators and staff, and probation officers.

"From a pure research perspective, we want to know whether paying adult mentors or relying on volunteerism makes a difference in youth outcomes," said Miller. "We also want to distinguish the subtler differences between advocacy and traditional mentoring modalities to see how each best aligns with various troubled youth populations."

The UTSA researchers will conduct the two-year study by collecting qualitative and quantitative data at Youth Advocate Programs in Toledo, Ohio; Las Vegas; Mobile, Ala.; Atlantic City, N.J. and Fort Worth, Texas. Led by Jeff Fleischer, YAP is a national nonprofit youth-work organization with professional advocates active in 17 U.S. states, Europe and South America.

To learn more about this research, contact UTSA professors Mitchell Miller (210-458-2537) or Michael Karcher (210-458-2671).