Young delinquents: Risk and protective factors for Australian children

Young delinquents: Risk and protective factors for Australian children

9 September 2015
Young delinquents: Risk and protective factors for Australian children

Findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children shed light on factors contributing to children involved in crime and delinquency.

Children involved in crime and delinquency from an early age are at greater risk of developing a range of problems throughout the life course.

These can include school failure, drug and alcohol abuse, unwanted pregnancy and dangerous driving in the teenage years. Life-course persistent offending and associated problems, such as unemployment, financial difficulties, troubled interpersonal relationships and family violence can also become significant issues for these children as they grow up.1

Most children who show signs of being at-risk of early-onset offending, however, do not develop into young offenders.

Recent findings from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) show how and why these children change course.

The research aimed to answer three key questions:

  • What percentage of Australian children are involved in crime and delinquency in late childhood and early adolescence?
  • What factors place children at risk of involvement in crime and delinquency in late childhood and early adolescence?
  • What factors can differentiate at-risk children who do not become involved in crime and delinquency at this early stage from those who do?

The results showed that early on-set crime or delinquency is relatively rare, with less than 10 per cent of boys and girls engaging in most of the criminal or delinquent behaviours examined. The one exception, however, was fighting. One in four boys had been involved in a physical fight in public in the last 12 months.

Researchers identified a range of risk or protective factors at age 4–5 or 10–11 years of age that were associated with crime or delinquency at 12–13 years. Children were at greater risk of early-onset crime or delinquency even after all other characteristics were taken into account if:

  • they were boys
  • they were Indigenous
  • they lived in urban areas (at 4–5 years)
  • their mother had been injured, assaulted or had an illness (at 10–11 years)
  • their mother smoked regularly during pregnancy
  • they were more sociable (at 4–5 years)
  • they had significant attention problems (at 4–5 years)
  • they had greater peer problems (at 10–11 years)
  • they experienced higher levels of harsh parenting (at 10–11 years)

Based on the factors identified and the children’s previous circumstances, the sample of children was split into two groups: children at higher or lower risk of engaging in crime or delinquency at age 12–13 years. The findings included:

  • three in five of those children thought to be at higher risk engaged in crime or delinquency at age 12–13; and
  • one in five of the children thought to be at lower risk were involved in crime or delinquency at age 12–13.

The results show that identifying early onset offending remains limited, as many children who appear to be at-risk of early onset offending manage to avoid crime or delinquency in adolescence. These findings suggest that developing programs and resources that target children who show signs of being at-risk of engaging in crime or delinquency may not reach the kids who need it.

Read the full report on the LSAC website.

Further reading and resources

References

Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Harrington, H., & Milne, B. J. (2002). Males on the life-course-persistent and adolescence-limited antisocial pathways: Follow-up at age 26 years. Development and Psychopathology, 14(01), 179-207.

Piquero, A. R., Daigle, L. E., Gibson, C., Piquero, N. L., & Tibbetts, S. G. (2007). Research Note: Are Life-Course-Persistent Offenders At Risk for Adverse Health Outcomes? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 44(2), 185-207.


1. See: Moffitt, Caspi, Harrington, & Milne (2002), and Piquero, Daigle, Gibson, Piquero, & Tibbetts (2007).

The feature image is by Philippa Willitts, CC BY-NC 2.0.

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Authors

Lucy Ockenden

Lucy previously worked as a Communications and Research Officer with the CFCA information exchange.

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