Children at risk for police contact

A longitudinal cohort study from Australia has demonstrated that the well-known association between mental health problems and contact with the criminal justice system in adults and adolescents can be identified at an earlier developmental stage and extends to police contact for any reason.

The researchers from the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales investigated whether children with emotional or behavioural problems and general developmental vulnerabilities had increased risk for subsequent police contact as a person of interest, a survivor of crime or a witness. The study included 79,801 children (mean age, 5.2 years) from the New South Wales Child Development Study who entered full-time schooling in 2009 and had no previous police contact. The children were assessed on entry to school for emotional or behavioural problems and developmental risk profiles were drawn up according to the teacher-rated Australian Early Development Census. Participants were followed up until they were 13 years old. Incidence rates of police contact were derived from the New South Wales Police Force Computerized Operational Policing System.

There was a twofold incidence rate of police contact for any reason among children with teacher-identified emotional or behavioural problems at school entry compared with children without such problems. The most-recorded reason for police contact was as a survivor of crime (9.2%); however, the strength of the association was most significant between emotional or behavioural problems and police contact as a person of interest. These findings provide support for primary and secondary interventions early in life to prevent police contact.

READ MORE: Dean, K. et al. (2021) Incidence of early police contact among children with emerging mental health problems in Australia. JAMA Network Open, 4(6):e2112057.
RELEVANT ARTICLE IN THE IJBPE: Rowlands, J. (2017) Generational crime prevention (Editorial). International Journal of Birth and Parent Education, 4(3):4.

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