As a society that strives to raise productive, healthy, and safe children, how can we be certain that our responses to juvenile crime are effective? Do we know if our efforts at delinquency prevention and intervention are making real differences in the lives of youth and their families and in their communities? How can we strengthen and better target our delinquency and crime prevention strategies? Can we modify these strategies as needed to respond to the ever-changing needs of our Nation's youth?

These primary questions drive our work at the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). They also explain why we place such great value on research, evaluation, and statistics. To know where our Nation's juveniles are headed, we need to be fully informed about where they are and where they have been. Most important, we need to know if our current efforts are working to keep youth from becoming involved in negative behavior. To achieve this goal, OJJDP's Research and Program Development Division (Research Division) oversees a wide-ranging program of new research, comprehensive evaluations, and exacting statistical collection and analysis focusing on juvenile crime, delinquency, and victimization. Much of the information learned from these studies is summarized in Juvenile Offenders and Victims: A National Report, which distills the most requested information about juvenile crime and victimization into a user-friendly format. This Report and its 1997 update are available by calling 800-638-8736. The 1999 National Report will be available in fall 1999.

Juvenile criminal and delinquent behaviors do not emerge randomly. We have learned over the past few decades that a number of factors -- individual, family, peer, and community -- affect whether a child will engage in delinquent or criminal activity. Research has clearly shown that the more risk factors experienced by youth, the greater their likelihood of involvement in criminal activity. Conversely, protective factors (such as developing close relationships with parents and teachers) can offset the negative effects of risk factors.

OJJDP Research: Making a Difference for Juveniles summarizes key initiatives undertaken by OJJDP's Research Division in research, evaluation, and statistics from 1996 through 1998 and presents the major findings of these initiatives. Readers may have encountered some of this information previously -- for example, the research on serious and violent juvenile offenders received widespread attention from policymakers and practitioners. However, this publication goes beyond simply reporting the facts. It puts the findings into context, highlighting their significance to policymakers, juvenile justice systems, schools, families, and juveniles themselves. The Report includes:

  • A review of Critical Findings, summarizing some of the most far-reaching and rigorous research ever conducted on the root causes of juvenile delinquency and negative behavior, including several longitudinal and multisite studies.

  • Highlights of some of OJJDP's most innovative research efforts, including projects that focus on communitywide strategies and examine juveniles in confinement.

  • Emerging Research in areas of special concern, including research on very young offenders, school violence, and girls in the juvenile justice system.

The work of the Research Division represents only part of the continuum of activity that occurs at OJJDP. Using what has been learned through our research, evaluation, and statistical efforts, other OJJDP divisions are implementing model demonstration programs, replicating successful programs, providing comprehensive and targeted training and technical assistance to States and local communities, and informing the public about the extent and nature of juvenile crime and what works to prevent and stop it.

Unfortunately, negative youth behavior gets so much attention that we often fail to recognize that the vast majority of juveniles, rather than headed down a path of crime and delinquency, are deeply and positively involved in their families, schools, and communities. They are focused on building the foundation of peaceful and productive lives.

Perhaps OJJDP's greatest challenge is providing all youth with an opportunity to build such lives. I believe that knowledge is our strongest tool in meeting that challenge. I thank the many researchers, evaluators, and statisticians involved in increasing our understanding of what will make a positive difference in the lives of juveniles, their families, and their communities.

Shay Bilchik
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

OJJDP Research: Making a Difference for Juveniles August 1999