No. VIII-IX (1982)

Multi-problem Families - the Characteristics of 222 Families From the Warsaw District Praga-North

Published 1982-10-01


  • multi-problem family,
  • Prague-North,
  • family,
  • social maladjustment,
  • alcoholism,
  • criminality,
  • family typology,
  • penality

How to Cite

Kossowska, A. (1982). Multi-problem Families - the Characteristics of 222 Families From the Warsaw District Praga-North. Archives of Criminology, (VIII-IX), 291–337.


The object of the study initiated in 1975 in the Department of Criminology of the Polish Academy of Sciences was to get acquainted with
the extent of social maladjustment in the families known to be characterised by the cumulation of socially negative factors. They were, called multi-problem families. In on study primary criteria for the selection of families were alcoholism and excessive drinking, which was based on the assumption, proved by many criminological studies, that alcoholism causes the most severe disturbances in the functioning of the family. Other symptoms of social maladjustment, such as crime, prostitution, child neglect, were recognized as the derivatives of alcoholism.

222 families living in the Warsaw district Praga-North were examined, in which at least 2 adult membres were known to the police as regular excessive drinkers.

Data about the families examined were gathered by means of interviews with the district constables of the police. On the grounds of the interview a questionnaire was filled in, including such data on all members of the family who were living together, as: regular excessive drinking and behavior related to it, delinquency, trouble-making and threat to the safety of their family and neighbours, attitude towards work, performance of parental duties, prostitution and other symptoms of social maladjustment. They were supplemented by the data from other official sources, among other: court records, registers of the detoxication centres, data from the juvenile section of the police regarding the state of care of the children and their social maladjustment.

The majority of the multi-problem families examined inhabit poorly
planned areas. The houses are mainly old, neglected, assigned for demolition (and thus not repaired). There are no bathrooms nor WCs. Many of the tenements lack running water. The housing conditions of these families as regards the density of their tenements is considerably poorer than the average of the remaining part of the district and of the entire city. The financial standing of the families, according to the police constables, is “poor” or” very poor” in over a half of the examined cases.

The social and professional status of the members is low. 70% of
men and 90% of women lack any vocational training.

At the time of research, the examined population of 222 families
consisted of 437 men and 360 women aged over 17 and 233 children aged 0-16 (over a half of them were small children aged up to 10).

The extent of social maladjustment of the entire adult population
is as follows:

As few as 9% of the men and 37% of the women do not drink excessively. The remaining regularly drink excessively or are alcoholics. It is interesting that a substantial intensity of excessive drinking was found even among the youngest group of the examined adult males, that is those aged 17 - 20. Only 15% of the men in this age group do not drink excessively. The excessive drinking of the persons examined is connected with other symptoms of “problem drinking”. Over 57% of the men and 17% of the women were detained at the detoxication centre more than 3 times. The persons under examination also frequently have cases brought against them in the Penal Administrative
Commissions because of breaking of peace when intoxicated. Over 40% of the men had such cases brought against them at least 3 times.

More than a half of the men in the multi-problem families are the so-called “persons dangerous to other members of the family when drunk”. This stands for behavior such as making rows at home, beating their wives or other members of the family, turning them into the street, demolishing their flats.

The population of the men is also characterized by an improper attitude towards work. Approximately 45% of them do not work though they could. On the basis of the obtained information it can be stated that they either are provided for by the others, or they live on illegal business or various odd jobs, or they profit by illegal means.

In the light of the data mentioned above as to the drinking habits
of the members of the families examined the question arises if any relationship can be found between their excessive drinking and their staying out of work. Approximately 92% of the men who are known to stay out of work without any reasonable cause can be recognized as alcoholics.

The extent of crime in the multi-problem families is significant, with 57% of the men having been convicted at least once, and 32% - 4 times or more.  There were also 20% of the women with criminal records. Contrary to expectation, in the structure of crime of the examined population violent offences balance those against property.

Among the population of the women from the problem families, 1/5 are suspected of prostitution.

When discussing the social maladjustment of the women, the problem
of performing maternal duties cannot possibly be ignored. 70% of the mothers of small children do not secure the care for them, and in some cases the child neglect becomes more flagrant.

Only about 1/5 of the entire population of the adult members of the families examined reveal none of the symptoms mentioned above, the percentage in the case of men being as low as less than 9%.

In the second part of the study an attempt is made to characterize
the families from the point of view of the intensity of social maladjustment in the entire family.

Among the 222 families there were 39, the members of which had no criminal record, that is, in over 80% of the families there occurs the co-existence of alcoholism and crime.

In more than half of the families not even one adult member could be recognized as positive - that is, not drinking excessively, with a clear court record and regularly working. There is one such person in 54 families, 2 such persons in 36 families, and in only 15 families 3 persons were recognized as favourably meeting the above criteria.

On the basis of the proceedings employed to define the degree of social maladjustment of each of the families, nearly 1/3 of them were found to reveal a very high intensity of cumulated symptoms of social maladjustment. Such families create a serious social problem to the still greater extent than the others.

Analysing the educational situation in the families on the basis of their classification as regards their structure, the situation in question is found particularly unfavorable in the families where the mother regularly drinks excessively or is a prostitute. This applies particularly to the situation of small children. In nearly all the families with small children the sometimes flagrant negligence of the children was found. The mothers did not care for their children, left them without any care, did not secure for them any sufficient food nor clothing, the children having in many cases no other source of assistance.

As the children grow up, their neglect and the influence of negative social patterns in the family repeatedly lead to the symptoms of social maladjustment, which increase gradually sometimes reaching very grave forms.

Multi-problem families require special care and assistance of the qualified social services. This applies particularly to children who are brought up in exceptionally unfavourable conditions. An early intervention in the situation of those children is vital. It should lead to neutralizing the negative influence of family milieu, which in a great part of the cases requires the isolation of the children by placing them in a children's home.

The assistance applied towards the family should also consist in financial and medical aid (including the treatment of early stages of alcoholism).


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