Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

Early Conduct Problems, School Achievement and Later Crime: Findings from a 30-Year Longitudinal Study

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies

Early Conduct Problems, School Achievement and Later Crime: Findings from a 30-Year Longitudinal Study

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study used data from a 30-year longitudinal study to examine the associations between early conduct problems, school achievement and later crime. The analysis showed that, even following extensive adjustment for confounding, both early conduct problems and later educational achievement made independent additive contributions to crime. The important applied implication of these observations is that interventions that increase the educational attainment of young people with early onset conduct problems may reduce the longer-term risks of antisocial behaviour faced by these young people. Further experimental research is required to ascertain the extent that: a) the educational achievement of young people with early-onset conduct problems can be improved; and b) the extent to which any such improvements translate into reductions in subsequent antisocial behaviour.

Keywords: conduct problems; formal educational qualifications; crime prevention; adult criminal behaviour; longitudinal study; New Zealand.

It has been well documented that children with early onset conduct problems are at increased risk for later crime and other adverse outcomes (Fergusson & Jakobsen, 2001; Fergusson, Jakobsen, & Ridder, 2005; Loeber, 1990; Loeber & Farrington, 2001; Stevenson & Goodman, 2001; Zara & Farrington, 2009). However, by no means all of those children with early onset conduct problems go on to develop later antisocial and criminal behaviours (Fergusson, Lynskey, & Jakobsen, 1996; Moffit, Caspi, Dickson, Silva, & Stanton, 1996). These observations suggest the presence of intervening factors and processes that may act to mitigate the long-term risk of some children with early onset conduct problems.

One factor that may act to mitigate the risks faced by children with early-onset conduct problems may be success and participation in the educational system. In particular, there is substantial evidence to suggest that processes of school dropout, educational underachievement and failure to attend school all act to increase young people's participation in criminal behaviour. For example, Farrington (1989) used data from the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development to examine different risk predictors. The study suggested that school failure was among the best predictors for adult violence and convictions. Tremblay et al. (1992) also found in longitudinal analysis a strong association between early disruptive behaviour and poor school achievement.

Conversely, it may be suggested that academic achievement could act as a factor which mitigates the risks of later crime faced by children with early onset conduct problems. In particular, success at school may set in train a series of processes that reduce the likelihood that children with early onset conduct problems will proceed to later criminal offending. These processes may include: a) the increased occupational opportunities offered by academic achievement; b) the formation of relationships with pro-social peers; and c) increased self-esteem. All of these factors may combine to decrease later risks of crime. Viewed from this standpoint, success at school may act as what Rutter has described as a "turning point event" which has the potential to alter the developmental trajectory followed by children with early onset conduct problems (Rutter, 1990).

While there has been substantial research into the relationships between crime and both early conduct problems and school achievement, most of this research has focused on the adverse effects of educational underachievement. Few, if any, studies have examined the issue of the extent to which educational achievement offers a positive pathway which mitigates the risks of later crime faced by children with early onset conduct problems.

In this paper we address this issue using data gathered during the course of the Christchurch Health and Development Study (CHDS). The CHDS is a longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1265 children born in Christchurch in mid-1977. …

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