The Impact Of Parenting On Conduct Disorder In Jamaican Male Adolescents

The Impact Of Parenting On Conduct Disorder In Jamaican Male Adolescents – Statistical Data Included

Claudette Crawford-Brown


Adolescent violence in Western societies is a serious social and public health problem. In a commentary on the problem in the American Psychological Association’s quarterly news report (April 1991), Charles Ewing, professor of law at the University of Buffalo, reported that based on the rate of increase, by the year 2000, American society would be forced to deal with 6,000 or more juvenile homicides per year. It has been suggested that adolescents who exhibit serious behavioral problems such as conduct disorder account for more than half of these crimes in the United States every year (McMahon & Wells, 1991). In the Caribbean, the crime figures are not as stark, in terms of the degree of youth involvement; however, in light of the physical, psychological and economic impact that the behavior of these adolescents (in any society) has on their victims, the victims’ families, their own families, and the community, it is imperative that practitioners understand the basis of conduct disorder in adolescence.

Concern with conduct disorder was stimulated while the author was working with violent and emotionally disturbed adolescents in the central New Jersey area of the United States. Perusal of the literature suggested that although a great deal of empirical and theoretical work has been done, there was still no clear understanding of the factors associated with this disorder. Thus, the primary objective here is to examine the feasibility of using a theoretical model developed by this researcher to determine the association between the presence and severity of conduct disorders and parenting factors such as the presence of parents, contact with parents, and the stability of parental arrangements in a group of 140 Jamaican male adolescents. These issues are discussed within the framework of a broader research project which examined family, peer group, and biological factors associated with conduct disorder.

Race as a Confounding Variable

One important factor which emerged in the North American literature is the extent to which race acts as a confounding variable and adds a dimension of complexity to the incidence of conduct disorder in American society, as well as to the analysis of the variables associated with this disorder (Henggeler, 1989). For this reason, the study was conducted on a sample population outside the United States, in Jamaica, West Indies, where there is some degree of cultural and racial homogeneity and where racism is a less significant factor in terms of the social service or correctional system.

Overview of the Major Theoretical Perspectives on Conduct Disorder

Numerous studies have been conducted on juvenile delinquency and conduct disorder. In this study, conduct disorder is defined as a pathological state within which delinquent acts take place (McMahon & Wells, 1991). Many of these studies examine etiological factors (Schior, 1983; Orcutt, 1987), while others have been largely descriptive of the nature of these disorders (McMahon & Wells, 1991). Other studies have attempted to investigate associations between delinquency and a wide variety of variables which include social, such as family relationships (Rutter, 1972; Khron & Massey, 1980), peer group (Hoghugh, 1988), biological (Lewis, 1985) and sociological variables (Cloward & Ohlin, 1960; Bandura, 1973; Akers, 1964).

Lack of Conclusive Theoretical Information on Etiology

The major problems in the study of this disorder revolve around a general lack of conclusive information on the etiology of delinquency or “conduct disorder.” It is apparent that the literature points to a number of psychological, social, and biological factors which would account for the variables associated with conduct disorders in childhood and adolescence. Rutter and Giller (1983) point out that the factors associated with psychosocial disorders, by their nature, are complex and tend to be characterized by multiple causations. In discussing serious delinquency, therefore, we are dealing with a multi-factorial etiology in which the social and family environments interact with the biological makeup of the individual. (It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between nongenetic and genetic factors since environmental factors do not affect all adolescents in the same way.) In addition, constitutional factors such as temperament and cognitive skills play an important part in the genesis of this disorder. Acquired behavioral patterns, such as coping strategies and defense mechanisms influenced by family-related variables, have also been cited as contributing to the development of serious delinquency. Mediating factors as well as social support systems and role models also seem to play a part. It is impossible, therefore, to determine a single variable which leads to conduct disorder and resultant antisocial behavior. In spite of these obstacles, researchers in the field have come to some conclusions about those who are at risk for delinquent behavior – that some of the factors revolve around child-rearing practices within the context of family interrelationships (Richman & Harper, 1979; Fendrich, Warner, & Weissman, 1990). One of these relates to parenting:

Many of the factors associated with juvenile delinquency could be put under the heading of poor parenting. They impact directly on the behavior of the child in the way that the child is accepted, socialized, [and] treated. . . . Other family factors such as marital disharmony do not fall under the rubric of parenting, but because they take place in the family setting, they are closely correlated with the parenting process. (Geismar & Wood, 1986, p. 31)

Parental training, when seen as a function of the child-rearing process, involves the encouragement of socially approved patterns of behavior appropriate to the child’s age level, and the discouragement of other habits. Thus, regardless of the sociological and environmental considerations of the innate biological makeup of the individual, the failure or success of child-rearing practices is an important variable.

When one summarizes the literature, variables relating to family structure and function seem to emerge as important in producing children with conduct disorders. Structural factors include separation of parents, separation from parents, and the presence of a single-parent household. Functional factors include degree of affection displayed toward children by parents/family relationship, degree of parental discord, presence of a positive parental role-model, and the consistency and severity of discipline. Specific biological variables as well as peer group variables also emerge as being associated with the development of conduct disorder.

In view of the divergent views on the etiology of serious delinquency, a new conceptual framework – the multidimensional model – has been developed and tested by the author.

Factors Associated with Juvenile Delinquency in Jamaica

Prevalence. Jamaica, like many other countries, has a fair amount of juvenile delinquency. The incidence of juvenile delinquency as measured by the number of children and adolescents brought before the court for indictable offenses increased by approximately 6% from 1,600 in 1985 to 1,700 in 1986 (Economic and Social Survey, Jamaica, 1989; prepared by the Planning Institute of Jamaica). Since 1986, however, juvenile delinquency in terms of numbers brought before the courts decreased steadily from 1,700 in 1986 to just over 1,000 in 1988 (a 41% decline). This represented 2.8% of the under-twenty-eight population in 1988. (These figures on delinquency do not include children in need of care and protection, which are nonindictable offenses.)

Acts of Violence. The most common offense for which adolescents were brought to the Jamaican courts was “Assault and Wounding,” where there was an increase of 16 cases (4.1%) to 405 cases in 1989. Larceny, the second major cause of adolescents coming before the courts, increased by 36 (1%) to 296 cases in 1989. The number of murders by juveniles rose from one case each in 1987 and 1988 to six cases in 1989.

Dangerous Drug Offenses. The number of cases of children or adolescents brought before the courts for drug offenses has been relatively small (22 cases, 1.2%) and has decreased by 33% since 1988. This figure has been decreasing steadily since 1986. Some local analysts attribute this to the effects of the heavily funded Drug Abuse Education Program set up by the National Council on Drug Abuse, which appears to be making inroads but possibly at the expense of those aged 19-39, where there has been an increase in rates of usage over the same period. The National Council on Drug Abuse reports increased usage of cocaine and crack in the total adult population from 1991 to 1992, particularly among the residents of the major urban centers of Jamaica – Kingston and Montego Bay.

Current Jamaican Literature

The literature of juvenile delinquency in Jamaica is limited. Phillips (1973) and Borely (1973) provide some data on delinquency rates. Phillips examined some basic factors including poverty and overcrowding, lack of recreational facilities, and lack of schooling. He concluded that these factors were more predictive of delinquency in Jamaican children than would be the case with delinquency in adolescents in North American society.

A more recent, well-designed study by Burke (1980) examined factors associated with conduct disorder. This research investigated a group of 28 Western Indian boys diagnosed as having conduct disorders in Kingston, Jamaica. Burke found some association between the development of conduct disorder and marijuana use. The sample size, however, was small, and the findings would have to be interpreted carefully in relation to the American population due to cultural differences in the two societies.

Some information is available on the association between socioeconomic status and unemployment and the incidence of adult crime in the Caribbean. One thesis on adult crime in North America is based on its relationship to socioeconomic status and consequent unemployment. In a study by D’Alberquerque (1984), who examined census data in different Caribbean countries, no association was found between the emergence of crime and unemployment in the Caribbean. The view was that high unemployment rates where there was so much poverty did not necessarily cause an increase in adult crime. Whether this can be extrapolated to include the younger population is, of course, unknown, but it could provide an interesting backdrop for understanding the behavior of juvenile delinquents in this study. The most significant variables for predicting adult crime in the Caribbean as shown by a recent study by Ellis (1992) were the age range (14-28) and the number of police in a particular area. These, therefore, could be termed societal factors as put forward in the model developed here. These could be seen as consonant with those findings which attribute adult criminal behavior to social rather than, for example, biological factors.

Conceptual Considerations

In analyzing the etiology of juvenile delinquency and conduct disorders, Bandura and Walters (1959) point to the use of models based on social learning theory that emphasize interactive patterns in the socialization process. It was their social learning model developed in the early 1950s which laid the foundation for later theoretical paradigms such as that of Stuart, Jayaratne and Tripodi (1976), who stressed the role of the school and the peer group in the development of criminal behavior. The later theoretical multicausal models such as that of Elliot, Huizinga and Ageton (1985) point to the role of prior delinquent behavior in the eventual development of more serious delinquent behavior. Other models emphasize the importance of parental modeling and family stability as deterrents to delinquent behavior (Krohn & Massey, 1980).


The author has attempted to develop an integrated model using a cumulative process which synthesized the most helpful ideas from various older models, as well as some basic concepts, which it is hoped will help in understanding this disorder [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. The basic components of the model consist of: (a) a Psychobiological Dimension which includes the existence of personality traits and cognitive abilities, (b) a Societal Dimension which suggests the involvement of the agencies of socialization such as the family and the school, (c) a Social Dimension which suggests the involvement of peers, and (d) a Psychological Dimension which reflects the extent to which behavior is reinforced negatively or positively by the different systems developed by the society to deal with the offender. As a result of the effect of this latter dimension, deviant behavior may persist or be redirected into other “noncriminal” channels.

Social Learning Models

As noted earlier, social learning theory has been used for the evaluation and treatment of juvenile delinquency within the context of the family (particularly in relation to modeling of parental behavior) for over three decades (Bandura & Walters, 1959; Gardener, 1974). One useful theoretical model based on social learning theory proposed by Stuart, Jayaratne, Tripodi, and Camburn (1976) suggests that the learning of deviant behavior is a complex interaction of what I shall refer to as important “learning dimensions” which impinge on the child’s environment – the parent-child interaction within the context of the family, the teacher-child interaction within the context of the school, and the peer-child interaction within the context of his/her social environment. Stuart, Jayaratne and Tripodi (1976) propose that deviant behavior results when a certain pattern of antisocial behaviors is learned in response to particularly frustrating circumstances in the family, in the school, or in the community. According to this model, pro-social responses are discarded or neglected and negative behaviors are reinforced over time by peers in the social environment, thus resulting in deviant behavior.

This model has been expanded to include the psychobiological dimension of the individual as one aspect of the child’s experiences which will impact on whether deviant behavior is exhibited as a response to frustration [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. Thus the same process that occurs at the level of parent-child interaction also occurs at the intrapsychic level. To the extent that the child internalizes aspects of his/her parental culture, it becomes part of his/her own psyche. At this level, interaction is influenced by characteristics such as neurological makeup as well as cognition and personality type. [A child may be predisposed to having a particular neurological problem such as attention deficit disorder or seizure disorder due to trauma and other factors. Lewis (1989) contends that this may be associated with the presence of conduct disorder in serious delinquents. The existence of neurological problems, e.g., seizure disorder, can be identified structurally in the brain by specific characteristics which can be measured by CAT scans and MRI tests. This structural feature is what is referred to as the neurological makeup of the individual. Personality type refers to the temperament of the individual. For example, Ensminger et al. (1988) found that aggression was predictive of delinquency in inner city black children whereas shyness predicted against it.] As a consequence, the child’s difficult life experiences result in a self-perception that is synonymous with deviant behavior. Thus the individual may have a certain neurological makeup which in interaction with other factors in the societal dimension predisposes the exhibition of aggressive behavior. Lewis and Shanock (1978), in their classic study of the neurological background of 74 youngsters, provide empirical evidence to support the premise that the neurological makeup of the youngsters was associated with their delinquency. Given this neurological predisposition, the child may exhibit aggressive behavior. A response to the child’s aggression by parents and peers, therefore, sets in motion a pattern of responses in the child which in turn becomes learned behavior.

The concept of three learning dimensions is introduced to expand this model to include: (1) the biological dimension; (2) the social dimension; and (3) the psychological dimension. Each dimension is made up of specific components which have a different impact on the development of deviant behavior, occurring as they do at different stages of the developmental life cycle. I have therefore added three stages to the levels proposed by Stuart, Jayaratne, and Tripodi (1976). Stage 1 shows that the child is born with certain basic innate characteristics, and Stages 5 and 6 show that once this deviant behavior is learned, it can be redirected or can persist. These stages are added to allow for further model building as the empirical evidence unfolds in the research literature.

Utility of Multidimensional Model

The above-mentioned model postulates that once deviant behavior emerges, its persistence is influenced by negative and/or positive reinforcement of the different systems of the society which may intervene once the behavior emerges. Such systems include the mental health system as well as the correctional system.

As shown in Fig. 1, I have sought to adapt the original concept of the stage by stage development of deviant behavior which points to the manner in which critical dimensions of the learning constellation continue to affect the development of deviant behavior. This is one way of integrating the notion of a multivariable etiology which emerges from the literature. The literature points to the genesis of conduct disorder as stemming from sociological, psychological, and psychobiological factors, many of which include numerous competing themes such as Bahr’s (1979) family life variables, Glueck and Glueck’s (1962) sociological family variables, and Lewis and Shanok’s (1979) psychobiological variables. The result is that the research on this topic has not tended to be very successful in terms of weighing the relative importance of the different etiological variables. This may very well be due to the lack of an integrative focus. Geismar and Wood (1986) note that the failure of these studies to recognize different sources of delinquency, and their inability to develop an integrative framework, has resulted in limited success in coming to terms with etiological issues.

Fig. 1 depicts an attempt to provide such an integrative framework. It is important to note, however, that the integrative structure of the model merely sets the overall framework for the progression of this disorder. One of the disadvantages of a progressive model such as this is that each of the dimensions is given equal weight in terms of its effect on the outcome of delinquency.

Figure 2 therefore presents a decision tree relating to each of the three dimensions proposed in the multidimensional model in Fig. 1. The model in Fig. 2 shows that in some children, the presence of biological factors may be more important than family or peer group factors in the emergence of delinquent behaviors. Similarly, as shown in Fig. 2, having a particular biological predisposition in addition to influences from peers may produce a delinquent in one case and not in another. The model also shows that in some cases, the effect of each of these influences (family, biology, and peer) by themselves may produce delinquency, whereas in another case these same influences are the components required to produce a delinquent child. This study therefore tested the model to determine whether there were any significant levels of association between (1) family-specific factors, (2) peer group factors, and (3) biological factors and the severity and development of conduct disorder and whether any relative weighting could be placed on these factors in terms of their importance.


One hundred twenty-four male adolescents 11-18 years of age were studied in order to assess whether, and the extent to which, the dependent variables of severity and presence of conduct disorder may be a function of family, peer, or biological factors. In addition, this study sought to assess the possible interaction among these variables. The study group consisted of 69 conduct disordered youths; the comparison group consisted of 55 youths who were classified as nonconduct disordered.

The statistical analysis pointed to a number of specific structural and functional family factors which were significantly associated with the presence of conduct disorder. The structural family variables that showed significant relationships to the presence of conduct disorder were: absence of mother, low contact with mother, and changes in the youth’s living arrangements. The functional family variable which proved to be most significant and which showed a moderate degree of association with the presence of conduct disorder was the presence of negative parental role models. One could argue that the problems relating to family functioning (e.g., the presence of negative parental role models) may also have led to other problems relating to family structure such as frequent changes in the youth’s living arrangements.

Theoretical Implications

The findings have theoretical and practical implications since a number of variables have been shown to be associated with the presence of conduct disorder.

Absence of mothers. It was found that the mothers in the study group were more likely to be absent (86.7% vs. 13.3%) and/or have low contact with their sons (81.2% vs. 18.8%) than mothers in the comparison group ([ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED] and Table 1). This is congruent with other literature on the Caribbean sociological experience. In evaluating these findings, it is important to note that Miller (1991), in his discussion of the marginalized male in Jamaican society, suggests that the relationship between the mother and her male child is one of the most significant influences on his development. The findings from the present study in relation to low contact with mothers, when considered in the light of Miller’s observations, therefore, are the most interesting since they focus on the conduct disordered male’s relationship with the mother and not the father. The quality of the delinquent’s relationship with the mother has long been cited in the literature as significant (Geismar & Wood, 1986). What is interesting about the finding is that there was a significant difference between the two groups in terms of mother’s absence as well as the presence of low contact mothers ([ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED] and Table 1). However, there was little difference between the two groups in terms of absence of fathers ([[Xi].sup.2] = .03; p [greater than] .05). It is also interesting to note that a greater percentage of children in the comparison group had medium to high contact with mothers. This suggests that the parenting practices of the mothers in the comparison group were more likely to contribute to keeping their sons out of the correctional system. Thus, given the fact that the number of absent mothers was greater in the study group, there seemed to be the additional confounding factor which suggested that among the mothers [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] who were present, there were those whose relationship with their children was described by those children as being low contact. The significance of the findings, which was borne out by the cluster analysis, is that greater numbers of absent mothers and greater numbers of low-contact mothers are the key factors which contribute to conduct disorder. These issues suggest the need for a more detailed sociological analysis.

Irrelevance of the father? It is important also to comment on the significance of the finding that there was little difference between the two groups in terms of the absence or presence of the father. This finding is interesting in the context of the North American literature concerning the low-income black family. This literature cites the importance of the absence of the father, suggesting that this variable is responsible for intergenerational instability, particularly in the black family. It is important to note that the findings of the present study point to the emergence of delinquency despite the presence of fathers. This could in turn raise the issue of whether Jamaican fathers are becoming increasingly irrelevant. I would suggest, however, that such a conclusion could not be definitively drawn from this study. It is the concomitant absence of the mother and the low quality of the relationship with that mother as well as father (in terms of contact) which are the significant variables associated with the presence of conduct disorder in this sample. This is supported by the fact that although contact with father appeared to be statistically insignificant initially, it was a variable which emerged as interacting with the contact with mother variable when a more powerful statistical model was used. This suggests that the dynamic of the parental dyad – rather than the maternal factor alone or the paternal factor alone – is one of the contributory family factors. This, it is contended is the most important implication of the family issues derived from this study and needs to be further investigated.

Presence of negative parental role model. This variable reflects the fundamental tenets of the models based on learning theory which appear in the literature, and focuses on the role of parental modeling in the acquisition of patterns of delinquent behavior (Bandura & Walters, 1959). In the present research, a significantly greater percentage of adolescents had negative role models in the study group (76.7%) than in the comparison group (23.3%) (see Table 2). The fact that 70% of these negative parental role models were fathers points to the reality that fathers are in fact relevant to the problems of this group of youngsters, and it is the existence of negative parental role models (particularly fathers) which seems to be one of the important factors associated with the emergence of conduct disorder. These findings therefore support the North American literature, notwithstanding the fact that in this Jamaican sample the presence or absence of father initially did not appear to be significant. The argument that suggests itself from these findings (particularly in light of the findings from the cluster analysis) is that when the father is absent from the household, that absent father in isolation cannot be said to be directly associated with emergence of conduct disorder. However, when the absence of father is combined with low contact with father, absence of mother, low contact with mother, and the presence of negative parental role model(s), there is an interaction effect between the maternal and parental variables which seems to be associated with the emergence of conduct disorder.

Table 2

Evidence of Negative Parental Role Models

Evidence of No Evidence

Negative of Negative

Role Model Role Model Totals

Presence of

CD NO. % NO. % NO. %

CD 23 76.7 44 47.8 67 54.9

NCD 7 23.3 48 52.2 55 45.1

Totals 30 100.0 92 100.0 122 100.0

Note. Negative parental role model: criminal behavior, drug or

alcohol abuse, mental illness, violence.

Number of changes in living arrangements. This variable was not very widely reported in the literature, except to the extent that changes in the parental dyad were mentioned as being associated with delinquency (Geismar & Wood, 1986). It was interesting to note that 80% of the children in the study group were living without parents prior to being institutionalized as compared with 20% in the comparison group (see Table 3).

Supported by the fact that Jamaican society has a widespread cultural practice of “giving up” children who exhibit behavior problems to child care and correctional authorities (Brodber, 1972), the author sought to determine whether the number of changes in living arrangements of children was associated with the emergence of conduct disorder. From the data, it was found that a sizable majority of the study group (91.7% vs. 8.3%) had two to six changes in their parental living arrangements (see Table 4). This issue could be related to attachment theory which states that delinquency and conduct disorders result from an underlying pattern of insecure attachment to the significant persons responsible for the youth’s care (Bynum & Thompson, 1992).

In summary, the interactive nature of the variables suggests a constellation of family factors in the context of the multidimensional model proposed. This family constellation (which includes absence of mother, low contact with mother, low contact with father, instability in living arrangements, and close relations with conduct disordered peers), it is suggested, places a child at risk for the emergence of severe conduct disorder.

Table 3

Children Living With and Without Parents

Total Living Total Living

with Parents without Parents Totals

Presence of

CD NO. % NO. % NO. %

CD 43 47.8 24 80.0 67 55.8

NCD 47 52.2 6 20.0 53 44.2

Totals 90 100.0 30 100.0 120 100.0

Table 4

Changes in Parenting Arrangements

Changes No Changes Totals

Presence of

CD NO. % NO. % NO. %

CD 22 91.7 46 47.4 68 56.2

NCD 2 8.3 51 52.6 53 43.8

Totals 24 100.0 97 100.0 121 100.0

One other implication of this study is its significance as empirical research which has taken a theoretical model developed in one culture and tested it in another. From the findings, it appears that the multidimensional model emerges as a sound base for contributing to the understanding of conduct disorder. The model assumes a biological predisposition [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED] which is impacted by forces within the family, within the peer group, and within the school. The original model suggested that some of these forces are operating on a vertical plane, with the eventual development of conduct disorder being part of an accumulation of factors. These factors, the model proposed, are in turn impacted by the school and the peer group. The findings of this study, however, suggest that the familial, biological, and peer group factors are not just other forces operating with equal weight in terms of their effect on the presence and severity of conduct disorder. I would suggest that specific factors relating to family structure and function, namely (1) the absence of a stable maternal figure, (2) low contact between mother and child, (3) low contact with father, (4) instability in living arrangements, (5) degree of relations with conduct disordered peers, seem to have a greater effect on the presence and severity of conduct disorder than do biological factors. Another important theoretical implication concerns the extent to which the findings identified a particular constellation of family and peer group factors as being significantly associated with the emergence and severity of conduct disorder for this sample. In view of the fact that the study was done in a society outside the United States, there are a number of possibilities in terms of cross-cultural comparisons with other ethnic groupings regarding a predictive constellation of factors that may be associated with the emergence or severity of conduct disorder. The reduction of the confounding variable of race has also helped to clear some of the complexities that have dogged previous research in this area (Henggeler, 1989) and allows for useful comparative analysis with other racial groupings.

The theoretical implication of the maternal variable must be discussed in terms of the cultural context of the study population. Historically, absence of mothers has not been a characteristic of Caribbean family structure (Blake, 1962; Clarke, 1957). It is a factor, however, that has been emerging in the literature on Caribbean migration (Smith, 1981) as well as in the sociological literature relating to parent-child socialization of the West Indian male in the past decade (Miller, 1986, 1991).

The findings from this study suggest that the absence of mother may be associated with migration from Jamaica to North America and the United Kingdom. The fact that migration of parents without their children has historically been used (Smith, 1981) and is still being used as a means of economic survival (Rattray, 1988, 1993) suggests that this is an area in need of urgent attention. It also suggests that this is an area that has important implications for the development of effective social work interventions as well as for social planning and policy development.


The problems of families experiencing numerous social and economic pressures, which may contribute to inadequate parenting practices, was a recurrent thread that ran throughout the findings of this study. The significant family factors associated with the emergence of conduct disorder included families with absent mothers, and children experiencing low contact with their mothers and fathers. There also was evidence of children experiencing changes in their parenting arrangements, resulting in some cases in unstable living situations. There was also evidence of children who perceived themselves as having strong relations with delinquent peers throughout their primary school years, which in Jamaica range from ages 6 to 11 or 12. The study also pointed to the existence of families where the children perceived their parents as negative role models, many of these role models being fathers. The study also pointed to the special problems of families where there were single fathers. The fact that there was some degree of interaction among the variables would suggest that these families need special attention.

Overall, the findings point to the absence of a back-up system for families in need or in trouble in relation to schools and/or social services. Thus, the need for policies that have a direct bearing on the welfare of the families studied is by far the most important issue to emerge from this study.

Family policy. The recommendations which follow would address the needs of families who may have children who are at risk for the development of conduct disorders.

The reasons for the absence of mothers must be researched. This suggests the expansion of databases related to the socioeconomic status of the Jamaican family. This could be tied to research on poverty and family life, both of which are ongoing projects of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, which is the major planning and coordinating agency of the government of Jamaica. The findings from these projects feed into the government’s overall planning strategies. To the extent that this study suggests that the migration of mothers is linked to their absence, this is a problem which could have serious implications for the society at large. It is proposed therefore that this problem also be addressed at the micro level where there is direct intervention with these families.

There is need for comprehensive retooling of the staff training needs of the nation’s social services for children. The Protective Services of the Ministry of Youth and Welfare, as well as the Correctional Services of the Ministry of Justice (which is responsible for all children’s institutions), need to undergo a reorientation of the goals of their departments from those principally concerned with the administration of a system of custodial and correctional care to those which would provide a therapeutic environment for the children as well as their families, with the goal of reunification of families. At present, the child welfare system in Jamaica can be described as archaic and ineffective, modeled on an English system of a bygone era, a system which has not adapted itself to the changes in Jamaican society over the past 20 years (Cumper, 1965).

A comprehensive treatment program to meet the special needs of children in institutions, particularly those who are there as a result of family breakdown, needs to be instituted. Such a program must first recognize the need for a database which could track all children (whether inside or outside of institutions) in order to ensure that they do not get “lost” and/or “forgotten” in approved schools and children’s homes. Such a program must also be complemented by ongoing research, possibly in collaboration with the University of the West Indies Social Sciences and Education Faculties, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, and the Statistical Institute of Jamaica. The program could determine the specific emotional needs of the children and the extent to which they emerge from the correctional system as relatively well-adjusted adults.

The findings of a high degree of instability in living arrangements and low contact with parents must be addressed through parent education and other supportive family services. In terms of the negative parental role models and the problems of single fathers, there is the need to establish a comprehensive assessment and treatment program for children throughout the different levels of the educational system. Such a program must include the correctional and child welfare systems. This program must be based on the use of a multidisciplinary team of both professionals and paraprofessionals in the health and social service sectors. For example, the use of teachers’ aides, community health aides, and social work aides at the community level could be instrumental in identifying children with behavioral problems. This service must be structured so that all children with behavioral and/or emotional problems have direct access to these services. The present assessment services, though well organized and efficient, do not meet the needs of the rural child and children who are taken from their families and placed, for example, in institutions that do not have easy access to these services.

A developing society like Jamaica must gear itself through increased efficiency of social service agencies to serve all families who are in need. Any society, whether developed or underdeveloped, that fails to provide its families and their children with these basic services will fail to meet the demands of the 21st century.


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