Wilderness programs for juveniles involve outdoor activities in the wilderness for juveniles with problematic behavior. It involves the use of traditional techniques of therapy especially group therapy in the wilderness and the juveniles are approached therapeutically. These programs are meant for troubled youth who are taken to camps outside their home or varied natural environment including deserts, mountains, and forests to improve their self-control, self-concept, and social skills (Russell & Walsh, 2011). In this program, juveniles are taught work ethics so that they can reclaim a degree of self-worth. The program puts the juveniles in small groups that are closely monitored by a supervisor to overcome their physical challenges. Wilderness programs range from one-month training to a whole year. Juveniles may be sent to such programs directly by authorities as an option to detention or may undergo the program after the exposure to a traditional disposition.
Additionally, juveniles go to these programs and reside where they are engaged in physically challenging activities such as wagon train trips, rock climbing, canoeing, therapeutic camping, and backpacking. The juveniles are removed from everyday distractions at home to enhance their concentration while on the program. Hanser (2013) notes that wilderness programs for juveniles differ significantly in their goals during therapy, the kinds of activities, and the settings but the perception of the treatment are based on leaning experimentally designed for building and stimulation of personal development. Improvement of self-efficacy among these juveniles is crucial because it makes them believe that they are competent and can accomplish any task given. Wilderness programs for juveniles have some educational component, where every juvenile has an individualized education plan (IEP). This boosts the development of positive peer culture, where juveniles support good social behaviors among themselves and confront any antisocial behavior displayed. Despite the positive outcomes associated with these programs, some concerns have been raised as a result of increased risks that the youth are exposed to during training. For instance, injury and death have been reported during such programs thus have been re-designed to involve less physical intensity but still gives hope, effective strategy, and allows the youth the chance to build their personal confidence.
Wilderness programs for juveniles accept juveniles who have committed offenses and those who are vulnerable to committing delinquency. The juveniles vulnerable to misbehavior include those who have run away from home or are living incorrigibly with their parents or guardians. These programs accept those who have committed a range of offenses such as violent crimes and drug offenses, but others do not allow sex offenders. Wilderness programs for juveniles accept those who meet the measures required such as the believe that the program could make a postive impact.
Wilderness programs for juveniles seek to ameliorate youths by the presentation of challenging and demanding problems that they are not familiar with thus will lead to failure. They are supposed to master the problematic activities to triumph at the end which translates to behavior and attitude change through increased confidence. This will empower the juvenile hence may be less delinquent in future. Furthermore, the juveniles are exposed to group activities. Even though they can complete individually, they are exposed to activities that require communication and cooperation. Through this, they can learn interpersonal skills that are essential in life after the program.
The staff in these programs are idealistic, young, and supportive in the personal growth, and they call for juveniles to be accountable and adhere to the set rules. Staff training is essential for this program. There are no specific educational requirements that are required for one to work in wilderness juvenile programs but after hiring, staff training is done so that the program achieves its goals. They are given adequate training in wilderness therapy before being allowed to enter the field, but on-job training to staff continues throughout the employment period. Also, the trained staff are taken through an extensive orientation program. For instance, staff training is essential because they are tasked with the recognition and treatment of symptoms before worsening of a condition. They should also be able to recognize severe situations or a juvenile faking sickness or condition to evade aspects of treatment. The staff are educated, but the recruitment process involves hiring potential trainers as long as they have a bachelor's degree. Despite this, wilderness programs have licensed therapist.
Juveniles who have undergone wilderness programs have had a higher level of confidence and purpose in life thus the program is effective. Lawrence & Hesse (2009) argue that the program offers an excellent opportunity for juveniles to face challenges in their lives and attain a level of personal gratification. The program leads to lower recidivism rates as compared to no exposure to similar programs at all (Cox, Allen & Hanser, 2017). This is because the chances of the juveniles reverting to the previous behaviors are lowered which may also depend on the intensity of the crime committed. Also, wilderness programs are useful in the achievement of a positive change among young offenders. On the contrary, the program do not reduce the recidivism rate among serious offenders, but the program achieves excellent results in counseling, education, and skill development (Lawrence & Hesse, 2009). The overall results obtained in wilderness programs support the significance of such programs in the intervention on juvenile delinquency. Despite these achievements, wilderness programs for juveniles have been criticized. This is because the skills developed during the program do not necessarily translate to the skills required for survival in rural, suburban, and urban environment (Bartol & Bartol, 2017). They rarely have rigorous aftercare services though some provide follow-up and counseling services (Cox, Allen & Hanser, 2017).
Several studies have been done on the effectiveness of wilderness programs. For example, Paquette & Vitaro (2014) did a study on the impact of wilderness program on antisocial youth and found out that such programs are beneficial and appropriate in intervening for youth with persistent disruptive behaviors. This is because these programs revolve around teaching social and personal skills that are essential in the reduction of antisocial behavior. Additionally, the study realized a marked improvement in the capability of the juveniles to interact with others openly and in a respectful manner (Paquette & Vitaro, 2014). The other study was done by Jones, Lowe & Risler (2004) which compared juveniles in wilderness programs and those in-home programs. They found out that the recidivism rates between the two programs are reduced, but the effectiveness dropped after some time. The data analyzed in this study was insignificant but showed that recidivism rates in wilderness programs are lower than those exposed to home programs.
In conclusion, wilderness programs for juveniles are crucial for youths with antisocial behaviors. They are taken to the wilderness and guided on how to improve their social skills. Also, these programs lead to the development of a positive peer culture where the juveniles can confront any misbehavior displayed during training. Wilderness programs have showed a positive impact because there are reduced rates of the juvenile reverting to the previous actions.
Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2017). Introduction to Forensic Psychology: Research and Application. Sage Publications.
Cox, S. M., Allen, J. M., & Hanser, R. D. (2017). Juvenile Justice: A Guide to Theory, Policy, And Practice. Sage Publications.
Hanser, R. D. (2013). Community corrections. Sage Publications.
Jones, C. D., Lowe, L. A., & Risler, E. A. (2004). The Effectiveness of Wilderness Adventure Therapy Programs for Young People Involved in The Juvenile Justice System. Residential Treatment for Children & Youth, 22(2), 53-67.
Lawrence, R., & Hesse, M. (2009). Juvenile Justice: The Essentials. Sage Publications.
Paquette, J., & Vitaro, F. (2014). Wilderness Therapy, Interpersonal Skills and Accomplishment Motivation: Impact Analysis On Antisocial Behavior and Socio-Professional Status. Residential Treatment for Children & Youth, 31(3), 230-252.
Russell, K. C., & Walsh, M. A. (2011). An Exploratory Study of a Wilderness Adventure Program for Young Offenders. Journal of experiential education, 33(4), 398-401.
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