The risk factor paradigm is a promising approach to understanding the problem of juvenile delinquency. The Program of Research on the Causes and Correlates of Delinquency, partially funded by OJJDP, is one example of a longitudinal study of youth that is helping to detect the importance of various risk factors for delinquency. Future research should continue to study the interrelationships between risk factors and delinquency and attempt to clarify how risk factors interact to create a cumulative effect. Similarly, researchers should continue studying the interaction between risk and protective factors and exploring why some youth exposed to multiple risk factors do not commit delinquent acts.
The development of the risk factor model, however, has its problems. Farrington (2000:16) remarks that "the main problems lie in the definition and identification of risk and protective factors, in establishing what are causes, in choosing interventions based on identified risk and protective factors, in evaluating multiple component and area-based interventions, and in assessing the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of components of interventions."
One question confronting those who would develop delinquency prevention programs based on risk factor research is whether a given risk factor can easily be changed. For example, research has shown that low socioeconomic status is associated with increased levels of delinquency. Although socioeconomic conditions may be hard to change, programs may seek to increase certain protective factors to offset the risk. Other risk factors are more amenable to change. Poor parenting, for example, can be addressed by programs that teach parenting skills and provide family support services.
The prevention of delinquency is a complex problem with no simple solutions. Risk factor analysis offers a way to determine which youth are most likely to become delinquent. The approach also allows practitioners to tailor prevention programs to the unique needs of individual youth and communities.