Exploring resilience in children at risk of offending

  • Lucy Elizabeth Wainwright

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Improving the outcomes of children exposed to criminogenic risks and displaying early delinquent behaviour is of paramount importance if England and Wales are to succeed in their fight to reduce criminality. This PhD explored factors affecting delinquency in early adolescence.

It begins with an exploratory study using semi-structured interviews and Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Young people who had experienced criminality but who had largely desisted were interviewed individually. Participants’ responses led to questions which correspond well with those trending in adult corrections, regarding the efficacy of building offenders’ strengths as opposed to focusing on their deficiencies. Prominent themes emerging from interviews mapped well onto those raised by the Self Determination Theory of Need and the Good Lives Model of Offender Rehabilitation as being fundamental to psychological well-being and optimal functioning.

Deficits (in the form of interpersonal problem solving [ICPS] skills) and strengths (in the form of hope and possible selves) were then explored with a sample of 126 boys aged 11-13 in London, to understand which were more useful when considering ‘what works’ in preventing child offending. A self reported measure of delinquency was completed by all participants as was a demographics form which collected information on six well-established criminogenic risk factors.

The first quantitative study explored three ICPS skills empirically shown to be to be relevant to delinquency. The three skills were Means-End Problem Solving, Consequential Thinking and Alternative Thinking. Correlations existed between deficits in each of these ICPS skills and self reported delinquency, in line with previous research. Correlations also existed between deficits and criminogenic risks. However, it was evident that the acquisition and application of skills is both dependent on social environment and requires some personal relevance to be adopted.

The second quantitative study considers the role of hope in protecting young people against criminality through the use of the Children’s Hope Scale (CHS). The CHS assesses two components of hope; Pathways thought (the ability to generate strategies to reach goals) and Agentic thinking (the perceived capacity to utilise strategies to reach individual goals). Results suggested that exposure to certain criminogenic risks affects the development of hope, and that low levels of hope affects participants’ propensity for delinquency. The impact of having high hope on delinquency was most significant for those with high criminogenic risks. Further analysis showed hope to be a more useful predictor variable for delinquency than ICPS skill. This has implications for interventions, especially so given the extent to which ICPS skills are targeted in preventative and corrective treatments across the world.

Lastly, Study 4 explores the short-term hoped-for and feared ‘possible selves’ of the individuals within the sample. Results indicated few differences between the quantity and content of short-term possible selves articulated by high and low delinquency groups. However, the more delinquent participants were more likely to give longer-term aspirations associated with celebrity and wealth and could articulate fewer and less realistic strategies for reaching their goals.

Towards the end of this PhD, it became apparent that although each quantitative chapter is largely independent, there is a unifying thread between them; the ability to plan. This planning is one of the ICPS skills (Means End Problem Solving), a component of hope (pathways thinking) and is a necessary skill in order to reach possible selves. It is proposed that instead of being embedded within broader psychological theories that planning should play a more central part in interventions, especially given the number of obstacles young people ‘at-risk’ of offending need to negotiate. This unites deficit and strengths based perspectives and would be personally applicable and therefore motivating for the young people involved.

Date of AwardFeb 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorClaire Nee (Supervisor) & Aldert Vrij (Supervisor)

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