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Every other boy who exhibits serious norm-breaking behavior before the age of thirteen risk becoming criminals


The future is bleak for children whose behavior seriously goes against the norm at a tender age. Early and long-term interventions make all the difference. This is shown in a research survey presented by IMS, the Institute for Evidence-Based Social Work Practice at the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare together with the National Board of Institutional Care.

The behavior of such children is often more serious and aggressive than that of children who do not violate the norm until they are teenagers. Moreover, it more often continues into adulthood. Current research shows that as many as every other boy and one in five girls in this group will exhibit criminal behavior as a grown-up.

We have a great deal of knowledge about these matters based on international research. The authors of the knowledge survey “Norm-breaking behavior in childhood­What does the research tell us?” have reviewed the bulk of this research with an eye to making it more accessible to a wider audience.

Important risk factors identified by research include factors in the child (for example, temper hard to control and hyperactivity), in parents (such as negative-ineffective child-raising methods), and deficiencies in the parent-child relationship. It is above all when a child evinces or is exposed to several risk factors that the risk is great for norm-violating behavior to persist over a long period.

What can be done in terms of prevention and treatment? Research shows, among other things, that what it vital is structured, manual-based, and research-based interventions over a long term. It is also important to intervene early­as early as pre-school or early school age­and to coordinate actions on different levels and in several environments. In other words, intervention should target both the child and the environment.

There are effective preventive methods for “unruly” children and adolescents. Help is available for children and teens that are on the wrong path and risk falling into a downward spiral. This is shown in a comprehensive report now being released by the IMS/National Board of Health and Welfare together with the National Board of Institutional Care.

The knowledge survey “Successful prevention programs for children and adolescents­a review of the research” describes successful American and European prevention programs that reduce problem behavior among adolescents and promote the social development of children. The programs are often broad in their approach: they involve the family, school, and immediate community and are primarily geared toward the prevention and treatment of violence and crime, abuse of alcohol and drugs, sexual risk behaviors, and school problems.

Examples of prevention programs described in the book are:

Incredible Years. A 12-week family therapy program used in the US, Canada, the UK, and Norway with the aim of teaching parents positive and effective methods of raising children, such as establishing limits in a good way and solving problems. The target group is small children.

OBPP­Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. An effective and well-tested program against bullying developed by the Swede Dan Olweus. The program targets the entire school and everyone who works there. Evaluations have shown good results, and it is interesting that other negative behaviors like vandalism, fighting, theft, and truancy also decrease.

Functional Family therapy (FFT). Focuses on adolescents at risk for developing criminal behavior or who already have experience of crime and/or abuse of alcohol and drugs. The whole family is targeted by the program. FFT is normally used as an alternative to harsher punishments like forced institutionalization and prison.

Cecilia Sandahl | alfa
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