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Social Learning Theories Explaining the Delinquent Activity

The major postulation of the social learning theory is that behavior is a result of learning the norms, values and behaviors from society. This essay will review the three most prominent forms of social learning theory that explain the delinquent activity. These are differential association theory, differential reinforcement theory and neutralization theory.

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The policy adopted by the Department of Job and Family Services is clearly based on the three theories mentioned above. According to the differential association theory by Sutherland (1947), crime is a function of learning processes that can affect any person in any culture. This policy assumes that the problems noted within families like domestic violence, child abuse, or drug and alcohol-related offenses committed by those responsible for the care and upbringing of children could be passed on to children through social learning that occurs within the family set up since socialization of the individual begins within the family set up (Siegel&Welsh, 2008, p.136)

Differential reinforcement occurs when an individual is in frequent contact with the values and attitudes that make it conducive for the individual to engage in certain behaviors, for this case the children may become violent, abuse drugs, and even possibly become abusive parents. The theory explains that differential association occurs within intimate groups which are capable of influencing the behavioral and attitude development of the individual, through interactions and that the associations vary in duration, frequency, intensity and priority (Siegel&Welsh, 2008, p.138)

On the other hand, the neutralization theory which is based on the works of Sykes and Matza explains that the process of adopting antisocial behaviors involves drifting between conventional and illegitimate social behavior. Those involved in behavior considered antisocial often have a set of rationalizations that they use to justify their behavior; they often deny responsibility for the act, deny doing harm to anyone, some deny that the one wronged is really a victim while others condemn those who condemn them for their acts (Carrabine,cox,Lee,Plummer&South,2009,p.83)

The use of punishment and rewards in social learning is believed to enhance the learning of new behaviors. This policy seems to adopt this principle in that there is an assumption that that through separation from their children, parents will become remorseful and change their behaviors in order to gain custody of their children. The policy can be seen as beneficial for three main reasons. First, it provides alternative remedial measures like counseling and life skills training which are important in initiating behavior change in parents and caregivers who have may have a record that could possibly lead to the removal of children from their home. The second reason why the policy can be considered to be beneficial in that it provides a means through which children can be protected from abusive parents, neglect and other problems that could hinder children from enjoying their rights.

This step also ensures that the welfare of such children is secured and also eliminates the likelihood that they will continue to learn antisocial behavior. The third reason is that most of the remedial measures proposed within the policy like alcohol, drug and mental health treatment require change or modification of the environment in which the person lives and this can be beneficial in fostering positive behavior change to parents and caregivers.

The negative consequences associated with this policy relate to whether the suggested remedial measures address the root causes of the social problems like alcohol and drug use, domestic violence as well. Most of these have multiple etiologies which the policy may not be able to address satisfactorily. In addition, the implementation of such a policy can also be disadvantageous in that it transfers the responsibility of bringing and caring for children from the family to the state. This can worsen the problem further as more families may neglect their children and inevitably force the state to care for them. The normal anticipation with implementing the suggested measures is that there must be substantial investment by the state in terms of physical facilities, personnel, money and other necessities to run treatment programs and in safeguarding the welfare of children taken away from their families. This can translate to more taxes to be paid to the state by the citizen.

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There are important ethical concerns regarding the policy which as a result of several factors. First, the subterranean value structure of the American society for example poses a challenge to the success of the policy. Subterranean values according to Americans are those values that are publicly condemned, but at the same time often admired by many and widely practiced in private. Such values include drinking alcohol, watching films that could be highly violent or use of vulgar language. The existence of these values alongside the conventional values makes it difficult to judge what proper parental conduct would involve. The other ethical concern pertains to the parental responsibility and that of the family in providing care for all family members. Family relations are important in the individual life and this presents a dilemma on whether separation from the family is the best for the children and the parents (Siegel&Welsh, 2008, p.138)

The policy again overlooks the fact that some of the problems facing families are only opportunistic and not situational. These problems for example include minor offenses due to occasional indulgence in excess alcohol. The policy also does not clearly provide how different age groups will be cared for when they are separated from their families. In addition, it does not address the issue of what happens to the children in case the behavior of the parent or the carer does not improve.

Reference list

Carrabine, E., Cox, P., Lee, M., Plummer, K., & South, N. (2009).Criminology: a sociological introduction. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis.

Siegel, L.J. & Welsh, B.C. (2008).Juvenile Delinquency: Theory, Practice, and Law. Belmont: Cengage Learning.

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