Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


Juvenile delinquency is a major problem. It is not new, but there are signs that it is becoming more widespread and that the degree of delinquency is worsening. It is a twofold burden on society, both economically and socially, as many people can be affected by just one delinquent adolescent.

If it is possible to identify and work with adolescents at risk of becoming delinquent when they are in the pre-delinquent, or at-risk stage, or young adolescents just beginning a delinquent career, it may be possible to change their attitudes and behaviours, and so avert a delinquent future and the twofold burden on society. For this change to occur, the treatment used must be effective.

In general, treatment programs for this population have met with limited success. Many have been shown to have limited application or to have not impacted positively on the adolescents and not affected recidivism rates. Some programs which have reported short-term and anecdotal success have been wilderness-enhanced programs. However many of these have had shortcomings. Some have had limited conceptualisation, some have had a too-short duration and some have had inadequate follow-up. Many wilderness-enhanced programs have been well-intentioned, by caring and experienced leaders, but have lacked a sound theoetical base and have, instead, been devised by a'gut' feeling for what will best help these students. Other programs have lacked the support, both financial and in time available, to effectively help the students.

Results from the research that has been done have generally supported short-term improvement in adolescents' behaviour after a wilderness-enhanced program intervention. However, conclusive evidence of sustained behaviour change has not been forthcoming. Most of the research has centred in the United States of America and, in Australia, very little has been done. Evaluation of these types of programs in schools in New South Wales, Australia, is only just beginning to emerge. Longitudinal studies are rare.

This thesis examined a program which was based on amore adequate explanation of causes. It contained a wilderness component and made use of cognitive-based therapy in the lengthy followup period. The thesis used a longitudinal tracking method, with a pre and post test and a control group. It also had a reference group of normal-stream adolescent students. This was to account for attitudinal and behavioural changes with maturation and to establish normative ranges of behaviour to which the treatment and control groups' responses could be compared. This study has provided valuable information on the developmental nature of at-risk delinquency in adolescence, which may assist in future research and may also provide the basis on which future programs can be developed. It has also evaluated a current program's impact on at-risk adolescents and ascertained the degree of success it is having.

The study used Jessor and Jessor's Problem Behaviour Proneness model as a guide. Thirty-one scales were developed which tested variables deemed by Jessor and Jessor (1977) to be good predictors of problem behaviour proneness.

The subjects were tested five times over a two-year period. The treatment group was compared to both the control group and the reference group. Several analyses were carried out on the data. Firstly, a multiple analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted on a longitudinal subset of students who were present at every data collection point. This was to ascertain changes in the groups over time. Secondly, aone-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to compare the groups at different points in time. This used the cross-sectional data set, which contained a much larger number of students' responses. The results ofthe ANOVA analyses gave snapshots in time whereas the MANOVA gave indications of change over time. Finally, t-tests were carried out on the treatment group at different times to ascertain whether observed changes were, in fact, significant.

The wilderness-enhanced program of two years duration did appear to cause changes in maladaptive behaviour. Twenty-two of the variables showed improvement in attitude and behaviour over this time and seventeen of these were statistically significant. The most significant areas of change were in commitment to school, self-esteem, locus of control and the influence of parents and the peer group. When these significant changes are overlaid with the seemingly positive effects on most of the other variables, even though these were not statistically significant effects, the argument for the effectiveness of the wilderness-enhanced program is strengthened.

The initial wilderness experience appeared to be important in the change process. Although early change was generally not significant, it was nonetheless present and this seems to support the idea that the experience acts as a catalyst. Most variables revealed an immediate improvement in behaviour or attitude following the wilderness experience. It was this early sign of a willingness or desire to change by the treatment group that the intervention follow-up program utilised to bring about lasting change.

The changes were of sufficient magnitude in nineteen of the variables to bring the treatment group into the normal range of behaviour for adolescents, as exemplified by the reference group in this study. Seventeen of these were statistically significant.

The treatment group moved from having nineteen variables indicative of promoting problem behaviour proneness at the commencement of the study to only having six at the end. Thus the treatment group's propensity to problem behaviour proneness seemed to have reduced significantly. Many of the improvements in behaviour occurred late in the two-year follow-up period, so it appears vital that a lengthy follow-up period is part of any multivariate program.

These results may be used as justification for wilderness-enhanced programs to be funded in the future. The general positive direction found in the study seems to be an argument for practical application. This is also in keeping with previous research on the short-term effects of wilderness enhanced programs and on the abundance of anecdotal evidence in existence. As there seems to be a growing number of adolescents displaying problem behaviours, and as schools are reporting ever increasing numbers of students needing specialist intervention help with their behaviour, this type of intervention seems viable. Schools are in an ideal position to identify these at-risk students and direct them into this type of intervention program. Problem behaviour appears to be successfully challenged through these programs. It also is reported to be very cost-effective in comparison to other alternatives used as intervention. So it would seem eminently sensible to continue to fund this wilderness-enhanced model.

02chapter1.pdf (549 kB)
03chapter2.pdf (1085 kB)
04chapter3.pdf (786 kB)
05chapter4.pdf (899 kB)
06chapter5.pdf (1396 kB)
07chapter6.pdf (1178 kB)
08chapter7.pdf (396 kB)
09chapter8.pdf (2186 kB)
10chapter9.pdf (755 kB)
11chapter10.pdf (1731 kB)
12chapter11.pdf (1372 kB)
13references.pdf (998 kB)
14appendix1-9.pdf (2207 kB)