Ethical Issues, Criminological Theories, and Public Policy

CJ102-02: Criminology I

Purdue University Global

Public policies and the possible issues that arise from their implementations are something that the individuals always have to be mindful of when drafting the policy. There has to be a cost-benefit analysis, as well as the ethical issues that may arise once the policy implementation has taken place, and analyzing the evidence involved behind the policy they are trying to draft.

The case study that we have been given involves Anytown, USAs Department of Job and Family Service’s new policy implementation of taking children from what they consider an at-risk home due to violence, drug or alcohol use, or instances of child abuse. Their stated reason for this new policy is that the social learning theory supports their new policy, due to the research stating, “aggressive children have parents who use aggressive tactics when dealing with others. For example, the children of wife batterers are more likely to use aggressive tactics themselves than children in the general population, especially if the victims (their mothers) suffer psychological distress from the abuse .” It is my opinion that this policy is not ethical, as it has too many far-reaching consequences for those individuals that the people involved in the drafting and implementation of the policy are trying to help: I have gone into farther detail into the reasons of why I think that this policy is unethical farther into this dissertation.

The social learning theory, in a simplified explanation, is that an individual learns human behavior through observation in the behaviors of those around them. “This theory extrapolates that human behavior is supported by rewards and extinguished by negative reactions or punishments. The behaviorist view that crimes, especially violent acts, is a learned response to life situations. According to this theory, people are not born with the ability to be violent, it is instead a learned behavioral response due to life’s experiences: Such experiences may include viewing others reacting violently to achieve a goal, or glorified violence on television that is rewarded. Aggression is learned when, as children, they model their behavior after the violent acts of adults: Later in life, this aggressive behavior patterns persists in social relationships .” If an individual grows up in an environment that has a lot of violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and even verbal abuse, then that individual has a greater chance of growing up to model that behavior: This is not always the case, as there are instances where individuals do not desire to engage in this behavior, indeed they find it abhorrent, but they are usually at greater risk of becoming like those they were surrounded with during childhood.

The ethical considerations for this policy are: This policy has a very broad spectrum for interpretation, it could be greatly misused, the children that they are trying to save could instead be placed in greater jeopardy due to lack of proper follow-up with the foster parents, increased costs to tax-payers and to the individuals involved, and the fact that the department can take all children from the given home due to any of the listed offenses, and the parent(s) must show proof of being ‘offense-free’ and, if needed, proof of counseling, classes, therapy or treatment.

The impacts that the policy could have on the well-being of the children involved could involve physical, as well as psychological, problems, both short term and long term. The children who are being remanded to the state, either to a foster home or to a state care facility, have a good probability of dealing with physical abuse via other children, or even foster parents. The psychological effects are far-reaching, lasting sometimes for years: The effects from being separated from family members and shipped out to strangers to be cared for would have lasting effects on a child’s fragile psyche. Some of the noted problems with child welfare and foster care systems, that children usually bare the brunt of, is the fact that many of those children will not stay in the same foster home or care system, instead being bounced around several times, leaving them with no sense of stability. Another major problem with the system is that many children will stay in the system for years, likely not being reunited with any of their family for at least two years, if they ever are reunited with them .

If the statistics of children who are in the system are examined, a pattern can generally be seen where those who are not either adopted, or stay in the same foster home for years, tend to have issues later in life with homelessness, unemployment, and criminal behavior leading to incarceration. The data states that in 2016, over 687,000 children had spent time in the system, with the average age of entrance into the system being 7 years old, over 50% of those who spent time in the system were African American, 65,000 children were still waiting to be adopted, and 20,000 young adults aged out of the system. These statistics shows a marked lack of stability for the children involved: Indeed, the children and young adults involved in the system may come to be involved in increased risk-taking behaviors, having viewed a variety of behaviors from differing care-givers, and show a marked lack of care for society in general, due to their treatment in the past.

The impacts that the policy might have on society in general are a growing resentment to those individuals in power who implemented the policy, as well as those who enforce it, raising taxes to keep up with the increased influx of children being taken in by the state, a growing need for therapists and counselors in that area to help those affected by the new policy, an increased need for social workers and law enforcement officers to deal with implementing the policy, and a possibility of a decrease in drug and alcohol related offenses. There could be some good impacts due to the implementation of this policy, such as increased job openings due to increased need for the above mentioned personnel, but over-all, I believe that the far-reaching impact to the community would be negative: The reason that I say this is because, due to growing resentment by those affected by the policy, and because of rising taxes to keep up with the influx of children, there will likely be an exodus of those moving out of the area due to the implementation of this policy.

What could the impact of this policy be on the family unit? If the department comes in and splits up the family for an infraction, taking all of the children out of the household until the terms of the policy are upheld, this could impact the family in many ways. The parents could be impacted by having to take time off from work, if not losing their job due to the stigma, in order to uphold the terms of the policy, they would likely have to deal with the opinions and attitudes of those in the surrounding area and having the financial burden of undergoing therapy and fighting to get their child(ren) back. The impact to children involved would be as discussed in the paragraphs above, as well as dealing with the possibility of resentment towards the parent(s), society, and law enforcement, as well as trying to re-fit back into the family unit after the enforced absence.

It is my opinion that the Department of Job and Family Services both misinterpreted and misapplied the social learning theory. While it is true that children learn human behavior from their surrounding environments, that can be taken into a broader context than just learning their behavior from the examples of their parents. Children learn behavior from all individuals that they have contact with on a daily basis, such as teachers, babysitters, grandparents, church officials, even family friends can have a large impact on the learned behavior of a child. The department, when doing their research and drafting their policy, either forgot to, or didn’t, take this into account before implementing their policy, thus misapplying it to the situation at hand.