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Moral Judgement and Delinquency in Homeless Youth

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The impact of the individuals' life condition on the relation between moral judgement and (delinquent) behaviour was investigated in a sample of 162 adolescents and young adults. The sample consisted of two groups: homeless youth and institutional youth, i.e. youth with a history of residential care. The difference in life conditions between both groups is characterised by a lack of stable social relationships and specific survival demands for the homeless youth group. Homeless youth reported much more delinquent behaviour than institutional youth, but this difference could not be attributed to the level of moral judgement. However, while for institutional youth a conventional level of moral reasoning was associated with lower levels of delinquency in four domains of deviant behaviour, including violence and vandalism, no such association was found for homeless youth. In the latter group, important predictor variables explaining delinquent behaviour, besides being male, were: a restrictive and affectionless parenting style, predominance of individuation over attachment and a passive coping style. It is concluded that delinquent behaviour in homeless youth appeared to be caused by a lack of stable social relationships, as well as a by a lack of moral internalisation, with affect and cognition not being integrated.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 1999-03-01

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