Young delinquents - rare but some at greater risk

Young delinquents - rare but some at greater risk

Media release — 4 August 2015

Early on-set crime and delinquency is relatively rare in Australia but a range of factors may combine to put some children at risk more than others, according to the first national study of criminal involvement among 12 and 13 year olds.

AIFS Executive Manager of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, Dr Ben Edwards said overall fewer than 10 per cent of boys and girls engaged in criminal or delinquent behaviour. 

“The study confirmed that only a small proportion of children and adolescents get caught up in crime and delinquency like stealing, damaging property or skipping school that might attract the attention of authorities,” Dr Edwards said.

“Fighting was the most common of all the delinquent acts, with almost one in four boys involved in at least one fight in the previous year, including minor scuffles as well as more serious acts of violence where there was an intention to cause injury.

“Given that almost one in ten boys reported carrying weapons, some of the fights that the children in the study referred to, may have been reasonably serious. 

“After fighting, the second most common type of delinquency was truancy, with 15 per cent of boys and 11 per cent of girls admitting to having skipped school for the whole day at least once in the previous 12 months.

“Damaging or destroying other people’s property was the most common property offence among boys and girls, followed by stealing from a shop and stealing from another person.

“Overall, 13 per cent of boys and 6 per cent of girls had been suspended or expelled from school, less than those who admitted to skipping school.”

Dr Edwards said the research sought to identify risk factors in early childhood at age 4-5 and in late childhood at age 10-11, that were linked to crime and delinquency at 12-13 years.

“Children were at greater risk of early on-set crime due to fixed demographic factors including if they were male, Indigenous or they lived in urban areas,” Dr Edwards said.

“Having a mother who consumed alcohol to a risky level or who had been injured or ill, when their child was aged 10-11 were among other risks.

“Children were also more likely to get into trouble if they had a more reactive temperament, higher levels of attention problems, more conduct and emotional problems or had experienced higher levels of harsh parenting.

“Safeguards that appeared to protect children included having higher levels of intelligence, a more even temperament and fewer social and emotional problems.”

Dr Edwards stressed that a child’s temperament and environmental conditions did not always explain early-onset criminal or delinquent behaviour.

“It is important to look at all aspects of children’s lives, such as changes in the family, school, peer or neighbourhood environment – not to mention the element of chance,” Dr Edwards said.

“Many seemingly high-risk children manage to avoid delinquency altogether and so resources to tackle antisocial and criminal behaviour may need to be channelled into broad public health-style campaigns, rather than in attempting to identify individuals on the basis of demographic or environmental risk profiling.”

Read LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2014 Chapter 7: Early onset of crime and delinquency among Australian children

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