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A comparison between verbal and written behavioural contracting with adolescents and their families Lipton, Harold Bruce

Abstract

Juvenile delinquency is becoming a source of ever increasing concern to the public. To date, the area of adolescent research has been sorely neglected in the social sciences and corrections fields. Rising rates of delinquent behaviour, costs of adjudication, treatment and compensation have reached the point where the search for effective means of treatment and prevention is becoming crucial. Thus far, most treatment programmes have been unable to successfully stem this rising tide, and some may even contribute to it. The recent development of behavioural technology represents a promising prospect in delinquent interventions, but additional research is required before these techniques can be considered adequate. Behavioural contracting is seen as one such strategy that is appropriate to a community preventive approach and focuses on the interactions of family members, which is thought to be a vital factor in the development and maintenance of delinquent behaviours. The method attempts to restore the reciprocity of reinforcers in a family with an established pattern of coercion, hostility, negative, or otherwise poor interrelationships. Evaluative literature indicates that this approach may be most effective when used in conjunction with other methods. Twenty-two families referred to a community lay agency for behavioural problems in the adolescents and preadolescents at school or home were observed over a four to six week period. Half the families participated in a formal quid pro quo contract and the other half in verbal implicit contracts. All families received the agency's regular programme of intervention. Data consisted of structured separate interviews of the parents and youth, progress to treatment goals monitored by staff, and school behaviour ratings completed by teachers. Results indicated that both groups showed consistent positive progress on most measures, but no differences between the two approaches were observed on any of the measures. The formal contract families tended to improve more rapidly initially but by the expiration of the contracts, no differences were apparent. The investigator concluded that both styles of contracting may be effective in such settings, since the contingency differences between a noninstitutional and a residential setting may not predispose one method to be superior over the other. The addition of such methods may provide therapists with more flexibility in tailoring an intervention programme to individual clients.

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