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Social Work, Community Organizing, and the Prevention of Delinquency in Croatia

Nino Zganec




Community organization as a means for delinquency prevention has been little used in Croatia. This proposed research will collect data from 150 social workers in both governmental and non-governmental organizations to discover both their knowledge and use of community organization theory and practice.


The development of theory and practice in the field of prevention and treatment of delinquency has a prerequisite work on the analysis of the aetiology of delinquency as well as the phenomenological aspects of social deviance. In Croatia, in the last few decades particularly, interest in this area has been considerable. In a number of published works, (cf. inter alia Vorgoc, 1997, Kri, 1980, Poldruga1, 1981, Mik saj-Todorovic, 1983, Basic i Poldrugac, 1985, Singer i Mik saj-Todorovic, 1989, iak i Basic, 1990, Ajdukovi} 1990, @i~ak i Horvat-Kutle, 1995 i dr.), one can find a rich array of concepts based both on empirical research and practical experience. This relationship between research and practice has been fundamental to many preventive and treatment programs, and has allowed them to be based on a rigorous understanding of the causes of delinquency. Whilst there is clearly, then considerable focus on preventive work in Croatia, a key important area is almost entirely absent: work in the local community. Even when this area is explicitly noted as a cause of delinquency or appears as a component of preventive programs, it is instantly apparent that important conceptions about one specific area of work is missing, that which in social work and social pedagogy is well known as "community organizing."



In general terms, prevention can be defined as aspirations in a specific society which are aimed at preventing specific events from happening. Even in the early work in social pedagogy and social work, prevention was seen as important (Hart 1920; Salomon, 1926). Three different directions of preventive work appeared then and later:

  • A repressive policy aspect, with the aim of keeping the ordained peace using a wide mechanism of supervision and control (Glladston, 1980; Singer and Miksaj-Todorovic, 1989).


  • A conservative direction, with the goal of preventing certain problems from appearing in society through strengthening the ideological indoctrination of the population (Wichern, 1962), and
  • A sociocritical-offensive direction that brought a dialogue about the social causes of delinquency into the area of preventive work (Pestalozzi).

The basic features of these three directions can be found in contemporary approaches to preventive work. Hence, some work places greater emphasis on preventive measures aimed at individuals, in terms of strengthening social control, whereas others focus on the reduction of social inequality or injustice, thus evening out life chances and allowing for improved infrastructural choices for families, children, young people, the disabled, the old, and so on.

We can further divide preventive work, in general terms, on the basis of three different orientations:

  • A clinical-medical orientation, which sees preventive work as primary, secondary, and tertiary;
  • A criminological-sociopathological orientation, which sees it as general, extra, and specific;
  • A combined approach which divides preventive work into the general (non-specific), the topological (specific), and the special (subspecific).

Contemporary trends in organizing preventive programs show that they are more and more aimed, at least in basic terms, at disorganized living arrangements in local communities (cf. German, 1984, Van Dijk and Van Somerove, 1986, Horvat-Kutle, 1995) and therefore tend to emphasize tasks such as:

  • Establishing better living and communicating conditions in local communities, through, for example, better organization of free time for children and young people, better use of local resources to ease burdens on families, and stimulating the self-help potential of the population.
  • Developing stimulating programs for different groups, particularly neglected families and groups through stimulating a feeling of self-worth in the population, making it possible to get professional qualifications, and so on.
  • Stimulating an acceptance of modified models for solving conflicts inside the family and in wider social networks, through, for example, developing neighborhood connections, contacts with other families, and so on.
  • Stimulating a change in the ways of working of social and penal/corrective institutions, through encouraging preventive work, caring about social network connections of people who exhibit disturbing behavior, and through support for reintegration into the community.


Seeking a global definition of the whole aetiology and phenomenology of delinquency is not possible without risking being seen as delivering "only one opinion". The causes of the problem of delinquency are always tied to concrete and specific social systems, cultures, laws, and so on. Although considerable efforts are made to produce such a global theory, delinquency is always taking on new shapes, new "goal groups" appear, and, therefore, also new approaches to relevant subjects in the areas of preventive work and treatment are continually developed. Two useful attempts at definitions see delinquency as "a group name for all those biological, psychological and social appearances, that more or less attack individuals and affect negatively and dangerously, other individuals and social organisms (such as the family, school, children and young people's other organizations, as well as the wider community)" (Dobrenic and Poldruga, 1974), or as disturbances of organic, biological, psychological, or social aetiology which interfere with the global area of individual or social adaptation (Kova evic, Stanic and Mejovcek, 1988, Basic and i ak, 1992). Uzelac (1995) decided to give a more precise meaning to the term and speaks about disturbances in social behavior, suggesting that these disturbances go beyond having an individual character, so that this


behavior indirectly or directly, through norms and value systems, connects with the behavior of other people and society as a system, and therefore seeks a reaction.

Theoretical approaches to the aetiology of delinquency develop from, on one side, biological, medical, psychiatric, and psychological points of view. For example, on one side, concepts of moreal madness (Prichard); psychopathological inferiority (Koch); a theory of reflexes (Pavlov); behavior theory (Watson); theory about sociopaths (Patridge, Birnbaum, etc.); and on the other side, out of sociological approaches, such as the theory of deviant behavior (Brown, Queen, Gruener, Lenert, Clinard); the theory of social disorganization (Eliot, Merill, Faris); and from new attempts to found a more complex approach (Separovic, 1987).

Newer approaches to delinquency in social pedagogy and social work are often closest to the interactionist position, referring to the stigmatization or so-called labeling approach (Becker, 1973, Goffman, 1967, Sack, 1973). This approach looks at reactions to behavior and suggest that delinquency is not a quality that acts have per se, but is given meaning by the interaction between a person who acts in a particular way and others who react to him or her. As a specific variant of the labeling approach and important area is the so called etnomethodological approach (Bohnsack, 1973 et al).

Interest for this approach within social pedagogy and social work can be traced in a wide spectrum of theoretical and practical work dealing with a range of social problems in concrete societies. From the beginnings of these disciplines, this approach to working with problems of delinquency has always been a very important area of interest, particularly in the USA and in European countries.



The term community organizing in some countries, especially the USA, England, and the Netherlands, has assumed a great importance in different aspects of social work. Clarifying its meaning involves paying attention to both parts of this term - community and organizing. The term community can be used in many different ways to cover various phenomena. In the English-speaking community it is used very often on its own, as well as in terms such as school community; community as part of a town, or the national community. It is used similarly in the German-speaking regions where terms like Germeinde, Gemeinschaft or Gemeinwesen are used.

Under the term community, we basically understand two different dimensions. One is determined geographically, and the other one through social relations. Exploring community has a relatively long history, and some of the most important contributions to discussion about community were provided by F. Tonnies, I. Sanders and G. A. Hillery who analyzed 94 different definitions. One definition sees it as a clear self-soul-psychic connection in terms of a tight sense of social connections (Koenig, 1955).

In the same way, the term organization can mean two different things. On one side organization means formal organization such as institutions, corporations, and the like. The term community organizing often refers, then, to some formal organization that fulfills different functions, in and for a community, such as the social services, public organizations, and so on. On the other side organization refers to the possibility of cooperative organizing in some community, including all activities aimed at achieving some form of co-operation between individuals and groups that share specific goals.



As a basis for understanding community organizing, Oelschlagel (1983) notes a number of characteristics:

  • Community organizing is aimed at one community and takes as its subject the whole neighborhood , city quarter, or local community.
  • Problems are not defined as things which refer only to an individual or one group, but something whose definition and solution necessitates a relation with a wider system.
  • Community organizing integrates different methods not only of social work or social pedagogy (such as individual work, group work, therapy, counseling, etc.)


    but also political action such as demonstrations, public conventions or empirical research in the form of action research.
  • Community organizing is normally undertaken in cooperation with various supporters with goals of achieving cooperation and organizing a 'local professional base.'
  • Community organizing involves an element of competition between various goal groups with the aim of each one activating its own power.
  • The primary points of community organizing are social conflicts which indicate the preventive function of community organizing. Therefore, community organizing is intimately connected with the daily experiences of people in local areas.

A number of authors have elaborated on what "community organizing" is. Some believe that it is some kind of third method of social work (Mesle, 1978 and others), others think it is about a process (Ross, 1955), still others see it as a new principle of social work (Boulet, and associates 1980). Some authors, like Yale (1983), use the paradigm of indirect intervention instead of community organizing and therefore put the community in the area of "macro-practice" to distinguish it from "micro" and "meso-practice".

A certain difference of view can be seen in various theoretical concepts of work in community organizing. In different countries, many different theoretical concepts have been developed; only mentioning some leads us to a variety of approaches: the community organizing concept of the welfare state; the integrative concept (Ross, 1955), the aggressive concept (Mueller and Nimmermann, 1971), the catalytic-activating concept (Hauser, 1971, Seippel, 1976, Karas and Hinte 1978) the Alinski concept (Alinski, 1971), and the concept of work in milieu (Ebbe and Friese, 1989). Each of the above mentioned concepts accept some kind of common base in terms of transferring the area of work to the level of the local community, but outline many different goals, techniques, strategies, and ideological stances.

One area of a large measure of agreement is the issue of the progression or work in the community. This is often represented in terms of five phases:

  1. problem definition
  2. goal selection
  3. structure building
  4. action taking
  5. evaluation

Even here, however, authors diverge when defining the roles and tasks of community organizers. Some frequently mentioned roles are: communicator, interpreter, negotiator, mediator, lawyer, supervisor, activator, charismatic leader, social therapist, and broker.


We have already shown how the term delinquency is often used indifferent theoretical and research writings. Sometimes, the accent is on the "local community" as wider aetiological frame. Whilst the local community has its own qualities, it also has the possibility to become an active factor in delinquency prevention. The community has a psychological dimension which accrues through commonly accepted norms, values, needs, and interests. Furthermore, community has its geographical dimension since it represents a definite, distinct area that people live in together. It also has a political dimension, because usually it has its own laws and institutions. Finally, it has its sociological dimension, which includes a combination of psychological and geographical meanings of community, and refers to the mutuality of interests and kinds of relationships that people can have in terms of common living.

All these dimensions together still do not make a community of connecting factors such as social interaction, cooperation within the area, or common relations between people and institutions do not exist. Together with other factors, the non-existence of these elements allow us to speak about the


non-organized or disorganized community.


The argument in this paper is that, to this point, in Croatia, too little attention has been paid to the real preventive aspects of community organizing in the area of delinquency. Supporters of preventive programs, be they theoretical or practical, still have a lack of information and practical experience in community organizing. For many years, the theoretical-practical development of community organizing inside the social work discipline - in Germany also in social pedagogy - resulted in relatively rich perceptions decanted into specifically shaped modes of working.

The main goal of the research presented here is to examine the historical development of social work and social pedagogy to address the development of preventive models in areas of delinquency, paying particular attention to community organizing. This basic goal is realized through a wide-ranging theoretical analysis of existing modes and approaches in community organizing, and through seeking elements for establishing an authentic preventive modes for Croatian conditions.

In addition, particular field research is being carried out, collecting data about knowledge and use of some of the fundamentals of community organizing by Centers for Social Work, and some other social and humanitarian organizations in different Croatian cities. Analysis of this data will allow a better insight into the existing situation. It will also as well as provide useful plans for a preventive work program of delinquency on the principles of community organizing.

The sample of social workers and others who work in social work centers in various Croatian towns, and in other social and humanitarian organizations, should shed light on the existing situation of using and knowing about the basic theoretical -practical fundamentals of community organizing as a specific preventive approach in the area of delinquency.

In this sense, the main research goals are:

  • To examine the level of knowledge base (theoretical -practical) of the fundamentals of community organizing.
  • To determine who is involved in community organizing work.
  • To check with those involved which have programs of delinquency prevention based on community organizing
  • To find out the attitudes regarding the preventive aspects of community organizing in the field of delinquency.
  • To explore differences in attitudes about preventive aspects of community organizing in delinquency by workers in governmental and nongovernmental institutions.
  • To examine the relationship between the degree of knowledge about basic community organizing, attitudes about it, and its use in practice.


Because most preventive social work in Croatia is still carried out by various governmental institutions and organisations, and because the staff who work in these institutions have the biggest influence on the creation of such programs, most of the samples are social workers and other from these institutions (mainly Centers for Social Work). The sample will be drawn from the city of Zagreb and from other Croatian towns, as well as from four of the biggest domestic humanitarian (nongovernmental) organizations. The sample will be some 150 people in total. We expect the results from this sample to enable the realization of the research goals, and to contribute to a conception of suggestions for the future.


As we have mentioned before, in Croatian conditions too little attention is paid to the organizing of


local community as a factor in delinquency prevention work. This has implications not only in insufficiently established practical models of work, but also in the inadequately developed theoretical and research traditions. Consequently, it is simply not possible to find real instruments which could be applied and used for these types of samples.

For the needs of this research , therefore, new instruments have been develop, which will try to give answers to our questions. A questionnaire has been produced, consisting of three groups of variables:

  • Variable s which refer to knowledge of the theoretical fundamentals in community organizing.
  • Variables which refer to the use of community organizing in general practice and in the specific area of preventive work in delinquency.
  • Variable which refer to the attitudes of our sample regarding the preventive aspects of community organizing in the field of delinquency.


In collecting the data, on the basis of the constructed questionnaire, specially educated and instructed examiners will take part and visit all the examined people to ask for cooperation from all of them personally


We expect that this kind of methodoligical frame in research will enable us to glean some important information about the current situation of community organizing in Croatia. The research should be a stimulus for the further development of methods of community organizing which from existing information, clearly are not used enough.

The big question is how far the knowledge about community organizing methods, which are taught to students of social work in Zagreb, is really useful in practice. Because the domestic literature from this area of social work is really poor - only one book and a few articles - most of the knowledge about community organizing that students learn is from other countries of Europe and the USA. The area of community organizing in inextricably connected to a whole series of specialities of local organizing in particular states, sos that experiences from one country can never be satisfactory for the situation of another country. Some European countries, such as Germany, found that knowledge from the 1960's USA context could not be uncritically transferred. Some twenty to thirty years later, the same thing is happening to Croatia.

That is why it is very important to develop empirical research and other approaches, to record the real situation with regard to community organizing in Croatia, and to set up the fundamentals for the further development of this part of social work here in Croatia. This is important not only because of the theoretical improvement of socialw ork generally or community organizing specifically, but also because of the general socio-economic conditions in contemporary Croatia.

The last six years, much of it in war, brought many social problems, among which delinquency received significant attention. Programs of preventing delingquency must be organized and conducted on the level of local community. We expect that in Croatia in the future, with a rise in social standards, ne kinds of delinquency will also appear. With the development of new technology, and opening up of Croatia to the world, and the process of globalization, the problem of delinquency cannot be neglected.

Since it is clear that the local community has a special role to play in preventing delinquency, it will be necessary constantly to update and improve the quality of education as well as the practice of community organizing in social work. This research is one step in that direction. It should give answers to some specific questions about the conditions of community organizing, but should also be a stimulus for thinking more about community organizing and getting ideas for new working models.


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