Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Antisocial Behaviours in New Zealand Youth: Prevalence, Interventions and Promising New Directions

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Antisocial Behaviours in New Zealand Youth: Prevalence, Interventions and Promising New Directions

Article excerpt

Violent criminal acts and other serious crimes perpetrated by young people represent a complex and pervasive clinical problem with detrimental consequences for victims, the families of victims and perpetrators, and the larger community. Compounding the problems posed by youth violence and criminality is the general lack of success that mental health and juvenile justice services have had in ameliorating serious antisocial behaviours in youth. Mental health, social and judicial services in New Zealand are under mounting pressure to provide effective treatment programmes for increasing numbers of antisocial youth. Multisystemic therapy (MST) is a family- and home-based therapeutic approach that has been viewed as a highly promising treatment for antisocial youth. The potential of MST as a treatment option for antisocial youth in New Zealand is discussed.

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Antisocial behaviours in youth represent a complex and pervasive clinical problem, with large numbers of antisocial youth coming to the attention of mental health, social welfare and youth justice systems throughout the Western world each year (Rutter, Giller, & Hagel, 1998; Smith, 1996). Recent statistics from the USA, UK and New Zealand indicate that antisocial behaviours are manifested in between 4 and 15% of young people (Fergusson, Horwood, & Lynskey, 1997; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1999). Unlike other, internalising psychological disorders, the harmful effects of antisocial behaviours extend beyond the young people themselves to disrupt the functioning of their families, peers, and the communities within which they live (McGeorge, 1997). Given these harmful effects, it is not surprising that mental health, social and judicial services in New Zealand are under mounting pressure to provide effective treatment programmes for increasing numbers of antisocial youth (Brown, 2000; McGeorge, 1997; Mental Health Commission, 1998; Te Puni Kokiri, 1996).

Reducing youth crime and the other associated costs of antisocial behaviour in New Zealand continues to be a priority for governments as demonstrated by the range of programmes and services in place. Unfortunately, we know relatively little about the comparative effectiveness of available treatments for youth antisocial behaviour in New Zealand. In particular, there is limited information on what works to reduce Maori youth offending. Moreover, the research that does exist tends to focus on short term results rather then the maintenance of positive long term outcomes. The current discussion will focus on these issues by first providing an overview of the prevalence and developmental course of antisocial behaviour. Then, currently available treatments for youth antisocial behaviour in New Zealand will be reviewed, with a particular emphasis on those treatments that have been empirically demonstrated to have positive effects in other settings. In particular, the promising implications of Multisystemic Therapy (MST) for the treatment of New Zealand youth will be considered.

Prevalence and Developmental Course of Antisocial Behaviour

Recent New Zealand statistics suggest that the prevalence of antisocial behaviour in adolescents is increasing. In total, there has been an 80% rise in apprehensions of youth between the ages of 14 and 16 over the past decade, with dramatic increases in antisocial and/or drug related offences (63%), violent offences (89%), property damage (155%), and property abuse (84%) (Ministry of Justice, 2000). Children with an early onset of the disorder (i.e., before age 10) are predominantly male, with prevalence rates becoming more similar across gender during the adolescent years (Ministry of Health, 1998). At age 18, prevalence rates drop to approximately 5% for both males and females (Fergusson, Horwood, & Lynskey, 1993). On average, Maori youth are three times more likely to be apprehended, prosecuted and convicted than non-Maori youth (Owen, 2001). …

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