Children who offend are expensive to society as they require lots of interaction with different agencies (including local councils, the police and Crown Prosecution Service) over their lifetime. Agencies will only fund services once these young people arrive in the criminal justice system but we need to stop them getting to this point by intervening early to prevent problems from arising.
All the risk factors for potential offending have an impact on agency resources, communities and society, in terms of services needed and costs to the individual and family. For example, violence costs Warwickshire around £25m every year – in services and for every individual victim.
Research has shown that investing in ‘early intervention’ to instill good behaviour patterns and promote social and emotional well-being in young children will result in a noticeable improvement in a child’s social skills and conduct. Over time this will reduce the likelihood of crime, and improve health and job market performance, regardless of a child’s background, thus leading to more people in employment, less arrests, less people in prison and less drug misuse.
We know that early intervention is cost effective – investment in the first years of a child’s life from conception to age five, will see a return in improved behaviour, increased educational attainment and will link to an improving economy.
The actual return can be as much as £7 for every £1 invested in early intervention. Spending £600 on parent training compares with the estimated £70,000 per head spent as a cost to the public of a child with severe conduct problems – this escalates to an estimated £500,000 when taking into consideration the costs of crime and costs to victims. Spending an average of £8,000 on family intervention for one family per annum can then be set alongside the cost of not dealing with the family problems which are likely to cost a great deal more.
There are many risk factors for violence and crime, such as a lack of educational qualifications; financial difficulties; major care-giving problems; partnership difficulties and substance misuse. Another factor is anti-social behaviour (ASB), if children demonstrate this prior to age eight and a half, there is a greatly increased chance of further ASB and criminal behaviour at age ten and a half. One of strongest predictors of later adult ASB and offending is ASB during childhood and as adults, these people will be responsible for a disproportionate level of ASB and offending.
The following factors have been shown to reduce the liklihood of ASB and other crime risk factors.
- School enjoyment at age 7. 5 (most strongly predictive especially for males)
- High levels of self-esteem at 8. 5
- Less family adversity from ages 2-4
- High verbal IQ at 8. 5
- Attachment to father (significant for males)
- Pro-social behaviour (benefiting other people) especially for boys
- High level of parenting skills at age 3. 5 (especially for boys)
If we want to prevent children becoming offenders (mostly male) in the future, we need to help equip all parents to understand their key role in child development. All families need support at some point in parenting. But parenting is still undervalued as a resource in society. A number of schemes are trying to tackle this but it will be a long term goal to reach out to all families.
A highly effective way to reduce the liklihood of violence and crime, is to ensure that from birth children are brought up in an environment that helps them to develop empathy, and one where parents and carers are in tune with their children. Help is available for parents to assist them with this and parenting skills should be encouraged and supported throughout a child’s life.
Discouraging aggression and anti-social behaviour in children has to start to start long before they get to school. Providing infants with what they need to develop will not only make society safer, more functional, and with less offending behaviour, but will also produce healthier and happier citizens, who will have better life skills and an ability to learn in school and gain qualifications, leading to better jobs.
The Community Safety Team are working with family services to raise awareness of the links with early years experiences and adult behaviour, to find out more about this work and read the report go to http://bit.ly/N55dTe
For information about parenting support in Warwickshire go to www.warwickshire.gov.uk/parentingsupport or call the Family Information Service on 0844 090 8044.