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Interventions to Reduce Risk of Criminal Behaviour

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 5322 words Published: 14th Aug 2018

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Evaluate the evidence base for and against early intervention in the lives of children and families to forestall the development of Criminal behaviour.

Methods of early Intervention

After decades of rigorous study in the United States and across the Western world, a great deal is known about the early risk factors for offending. High impulsiveness, low attainment, criminal parents, parental conflict, and growing up in a deprived, high-crime neighbourhood are among the most important factors. ‘It is the accumulation of risk factors that characterises this much smaller group’s persistent extreme violence.’[1] There is also a growing body of high quality scientific evidence on the effectiveness of early prevention programs designed to prevent children from embarking on a life of crime. Preschool intellectual enrichment, child skills training, parent management training, and home visiting programs are among the most effective early prevention programs. [2] Friedrich Losel, director of the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge has researched that “Conduct problems often start by the age of five and about 40 per cent go on to become more serious and persistent as the child gets older. This is why it’s important to develop and implement measures to stop it relatively early.”[3]

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Therefore, assessing the risk factor behaviour before offending occurs or become persistent is imperative. The Youth Survey suggests that the most common age for first time offending is between the age of 11-12 for mainstream pupils and 10-11 for those that have been excluded. If someone has not committed an offence by the age of 14 they will generally not do so. An early onset of delinquency prior to age 13 years increases the risk of later serious, violent, and chronic offending by a factor of 2–3. Also child delinquents, compared to juveniles who start offending at a later age, tend to have longer delinquent careers.[4] Rolf Loeber and David P Farrington advance that the protective factors in the individual, family, peer group, school, and neighbourhood affect the development of delinquency.[5]

The risk factors that have been well researched are varied. ‘There is no easy link of cause and effect between the factors associated with youth crime and actual offending.’[6] The risk factors may be counteracted by positive influences such as good parenting.

Notable risk factors include, being male; being brought up by a criminal parent or parents; living in a family with multiple problems; experiencing poor parenting and lack of supervision; poor discipline in the family and at school; playing truant or being excluded from school; associating with delinquent friends; and having siblings who offend. Research has illustrated that ‘two important influences are persistent school truancy and associating with offenders, but the single most important factor in explaining criminality is the quality of a young person’s home life, including parental supervision.’ [7]

The National Public Health Service for Wales issued an en evidence briefing so as to discuss interventions surrounding crime and the fear of crime in June 2005. The paper is as a result of studies relating to adult and juvenile offenders. As well as protecting against future criminal activity early intervention arguably promotes health. Building healthy public policy, creating supportive environments, strengthening community action, developing personal skills and re structuring health services are thought to help prevent against crime also.[8]

The family factor of risk concerns ideals such as poor parenting, family history of offending and family conflict. For families, Behavioural Parent Training for anti social child behaviour acts as an effective strategy to modify child anti social behaviour and improve parental skills. Parenting programmes provide parents with an opportunity to improve their skills in dealing with the behaviour that puts their child at risk of offending. They provide parents/carers with one-to-one advice as well as practical support in handling the behaviour of their child, setting appropriate boundaries and improving communication. Pre school children who fall within one or more of the risk categories should also be placed into day care, establishing a supportive environment for both the child and the parent. The outcome of this method of intervention appears to be increased employment, lower teenage pregnancy rates, higher social class status and decreased criminal behaviour in intervention population. Trials have established some weaknesses, but the potential population effective impact is very broad. To prevent youth violence specifically, it has been researched that interventions applied between the prenatal period and the age of six appear to be most effective. Community based programmes that target high risk behaviour is seen as beneficial. Family and parenting intervention for conduct disorders and delinquency for those aged between 10 and 17 years also have beneficial effects in decreasing criminal activity. High quality pre school supervision has been seen to decrease arrests and arrests specifically for drug dealing. Time spent on probation is also decreased in this way. It is a cost effective method of intervention ad can be implemented within pre school education and programmes within day care and nursery.[9]

The School factor of risk flags up cases of low achievement, lack of attendance, lack of commitment, aggressive behaviour and bullying. Safer school’s partnerships provide a much focused approach to address the high level of crime and antisocial behaviour committed in and around schools in some areas – crime committed by and against children and young people. There are now 370 police officers based in selected schools in areas with high levels of street crime. This is a joint initiative between the Department for Education and Skills the Youth Justice Board and the Association of Chief Police Officers which aims to reduce criminality, antisocial behaviour and criminality.[10] Academic and vocational interventions in order to educate those with a lesser capability than others are seen to be effective in reducing recidivism. Behavioural and skill orientated classes for those showing risk are among the most successful interventions to reduce crime and recidivism. To prevent offending, the Youth Justice Board set up schemes such as the Youth Inclusion programme. Under this programme young people who are engaged in crime or at risk of offending are identified by youth offending teams and the programme gives young people somewhere safe to go where they can learn new skills, take part in activities with others and get help with their education and careers guidance. Youth Inclusion and Support Panels aim to prevent antisocial behaviour and offending by 8 to 13-year-olds who are considered to be at high risk of offending. Panels are made up of a number of representatives of different agencies such as social services and health. The main emphasis of a panel’s work is to ensure that children and their families, at the earliest possible opportunity, can access mainstream public services. [11]

The community factor of risk revolves around community disorganisation, neglect and community tolerance of crime and drugs. The individual, personality factor of risk includes early problematic behaviours surrounding drugs and alcohol and the notion of criminally active friends. [12] Positive Activities for Young People provides a broad range of constructive activities for 8 to 19-year-olds at risk of social exclusion. It builds on the success of previous school holiday programmes such as the Youth Justice Board’s Splash and Connexions’ Summer Plus. The programme aims to reduce crime and to ensure that young people return to education, have opportunities to engage in new and constructive activities, and can mix with others from different backgrounds. This cross-government initiative aims to develop young people’s interests, talents and education, and engage them in community activities so they are less likely to commit crime. Activities based on arts, sport and culture take place both during the school holidays and out of school hours throughout the year. Positive Futures is a national sports-based social inclusion programme aimed at marginalised 10 to 19-year-olds in the most deprived areas. By engaging these young people in sport and other activities, Positive Futures aims to build relationships between responsible adults and young people based on mutual trust and respect, in order to create new opportunities for alternative lifestyles.[13]

One method which many may overlook is the punishment of offenders once they have offended at whatever age. If a young person is convicted of an offence, there are a number of community and custodial sentences. The community sentences currently available include, Community Rehabilitation and Punishment Order, Supervision Order, Action Plan Order Attendance Sentence Order, Referral Order, Reparation Order, Fine, Conditional Discharge and Absolute Discharge. Young people can also be given an Intensive Supervision and Surveillance Programme as part of an order. ISSP is the most rigorous non-custodial intervention available for young offenders. It combines high levels of community-based surveillance with a comprehensive and sustained focus on tackling the factors that contribute to the young person’s offending behaviour. The programme targets the most active repeat young offenders, and those who commit the most serious crimes.[14]Punishment does afford deterrent effects but it is no clear how much in cases of increased severity. As this is not always cost effective, this is one reason why possible alternatives should be considered

Although some of the methods I have just discussed are effective, the effects may be limited. For example, Behavioural Parent Training for anti social behaviour in children is a short term procedure and for long term sustainability it will require other methods to supplement the training. Changes within the environment and the community are also seen as a potential short term effect because it is proven that changes do reduce criminal activity and fear of crime but there is little information on whether this has been a long term deterrent. Cognitive behavioural multidimensional programmes to prevent youth violence can be effective but the main area of weakness within youth crime prevention is that the approaches for youth crime have not been well evaluated. Controlled studies are needed regarding diversion programmes, counselling and therapy in order to see their preventative quality. Family and group treatment has also worked in the short term but seems to decrease dramatically as time passes. If communities can build home visiting programmes to prevent crime, that are comprehensive, continuous and family focussed these are most likely to succeed long term. This is dependant on other services on offer in the community and the scope of the programmes facilitated. Physiological and social skill training of children is seen to prevent adolescent aggression but not for the duration. All those involved with a child’s upbringing are required to show them what is right and what is wrong and the consequences of their behaviour. This is seen as effective so as not to cause inadvertent damage. The social skill training for children has prevented criminal behaviour and aggression but the success of the effectiveness is different in different settings and for different personalities.

There are a variety of ineffective methods of intervention. Namely, community crime prevention programmes have insufficient evidence to state that such interventions can alter the behaviour of individuals who do not see crime as wrong. Even juvenile offender programmes have come under scrutiny due to the abandonment of recreational programmes, guided intervention, social case work and detached worked programmes as they are seen as ineffective. There is a wide variability in the reported effects and so even if more behavioural and skilled orientated programmes were introduced it would need to be done area by area. Mentoring pairs a volunteer adult with a young person at risk of offending. The adult’s role is to motivate and support the young person on the scheme through a sustained relationship over an extended period of time. Youth Offending Teams have been set up to work with young offenders and young people at risk of offending. These are multi-agency teams made up of representatives from social services, police, health, housing, police, probation, education and dug and alcohol workers and this will be set up in every local authority area

However, Mentoring and peer counselling are see to be less effective in order to prevent youth violence from an early age. Intensive casework to prevent youth crime has evidence that argues against this approach as more often than not it has had negative effects.

The review conducted by the Wider Determinants & Inequalities (2005) Interventions: Crime and Fear of Crime, found that there was little evidence of effectiveness for any intervention and the evidence that does exist is described as ‘slight, inconsistent and of questionable reliability.’[15]

A Summary and critical commentary on history of early intervention attempts in the UK and it’s continual development.

In the 1990’s there was a huge increase in the number of children engaging in criminal activity and caught up in the youth justice system. The labour party wanted to reform the youth justice system in 1997 to stop the increase. The focus was on parental responsibility and new parental responsibility orders in order to ‘force parents face up to their responsibility for their children’s misbehaviour.’[16] Labour introduced the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Youth Justice Board was set up to drive the reforms forwards. ’The aim of the YJB is to prevent offending among under-18s and it delivers this by setting standards and monitoring performance, promoting good practice and diverting young people away from crime through early identification and prevention programmes.’[17]The act implemented proposals such as the Child safety order, designed to protect children under ten who are at risk of becoming involved in crime or who have already started to behave in an anti-social or criminal manner. The local authority can require a child to be at home for a number of evenings a week, stay away from certain people and prohibit conduct such as truancy.[18] Also, the local child curfew for those under ten, is proposed to protect children, to prevent neighborhood and to promote supervision of young children, unsupervised late at night. [19] Schemes such as those outlined above have provided an effective immediate method of intervention. The Children Act 2004 also placed much emphasis on joined-up working and early intervention. It aimed to divert young people away from crime and ensure parents are responsible for their child’s behaviour.

The Government then planned a Draft Bill, building on the responses to the September 2003 consultation ‘Youth Justice: The Next Steps.’[20]It introduced better sentencing of juveniles with a sharper focus on preventing offending and simplification of sentences. Rolf Loeber and David P Farrington were in agreement with the ‘preventive and remedial interventions in the juvenile justice system, families, peer groups, schools, and neighbourhoods, and makes a case for improvement in the integration of services for child delinquents.’ [21]The premise of action by those working within juvenile justice, mental health and child welfare has been supported alongside policy recommendations. The youth crime strategy looked at targeting risk factors and those most at risk.

The ‘Every Child Matters’ and ‘Children’s Bill’ afforded structural reform to children’s activities within the early years.[22] The joint Home Office and youth justice board issued guidance alongside this with the supporting aim to prevent children and young people being involved in criminality in the first place.[23] Through identifying early those most at risk and commencing intensive target programmes they hoped to decrease the number of children that turned to criminal activity. Research by the Home Office has shown that those most at risk of offending have not entered into criminality where the have participated in preventative programmes. The lack of successful implementation of these programmes has meant that prevention of very young children growing up and turning to crime is inadequate. The early years influence children greatly and the age at which children begin to ‘offend’ the more likely they are to continue offending.[24]

Presently, measures tackling prevention of children becoming involved in criminal and anti social behavior are insufficient. The Government should not and will not dictate how children should be raised or the running of a family home, but parents hold the primary responsibility for giving children the love and care they need, ensuring their welfare and security and teaching them right from wrong. Intervention methods, still fail to adequately address the parent, child and criminal activity connection.

When discussing the potential of continual development regarding early intervention, the thesis of Friedrich Losel, considers it necessary to look at three categories of programme to act as a means of early intervention. Firstly, there is Universal Prevention which requires social services to be in contact with all families in the UK. This would also act as a technique for access where the family requires a more intensive and interactive service. The obvious problems with this theory are that although thorough and highly stringent, social service may not have the resources funding or manpower to carry out this proposal as well as it should be. Secondly, there could be Selective Prevention where social services focus on families at risk, such as young, single mothers and those who already have crime within their families. This is close to the system that the government, police and local authorities agree with but it is also close to the system that we have at the moment which is insufficient. The problem is whether the option typecasts people too much and does not look at the bigger picture or new risks surfacing. Thirdly is the theory of Indicated Prevention, where social services make a clear assessment of the child’s development when they have already shown some aggressive behaviour, such as fighting, disobeying parents, or fire setting. “If the child shows these behaviours in more than one social context, such as at school and at home, then this is an early indicator,” says Losel.The problem is that these families often think this is normal which is why professionals have an important warning function because they are more neutral in recognising the problem.’[25] Again this is also close to the current system, and although more resource friendly, it still waits until there has been an affirmative action before any form of intervention occurs. This is the deficiency with the system at present. From these three ideals, we are no closer to providing a uniformed means of intervention unless all three are used and applied on a case by case basis.

There is consensus with Losel in that research has provided a relatively sound knowledge of risk factors but there are a number of programmes requiring better evaluation about which ones are successful in the long-term. There are only a few specialist services available and because of the scarce specialist provision at an early age, such as residential school placements, foster care, family placements, therapeutic input, assessments or forensic advice, professionals have been unable to respond to the behaviour of the children before it gets so serious in adolescence. It is then for the already overworked, under funded and under staffed Social Services who end up trying to sort the problem. The risk factors are known but it can be ‘difficult to distinguish which child will go on to be extremely dangerous. So it can be difficult to get funding for specialist resources] on the basis that you are predicting something that hasn’t happened yet.”[26] It is argued that early intervention is the key rather than the present strategy where it is only when a child does something as extraordinary or dangerous as this that they get a response. Further,” the inability to respond and prioritise some cases over others, early on, means we end up with these extreme behaviours.” [27]

Diversities, contradictions and debates in public discourses of early childhood convey only a fraction of the challenge, when set in context of (generally unarticulated) diversities in beliefs, ideas and experiences that shape individual children’s lives. Any close study of young children reveals the complexity of the worlds they inhabit, the very different pressures on parents, caregivers and others on whom their wellbeing depends. Starting points for policy development are very different where early childhood is dominated by extreme poverty, inequality or discrimination, or by ethnic struggle, civil or cross-national conflict, or by malnutrition, preventable diseases or HIV/Aids, by family or community breakdown and forced migration, or by weak or corrupt infrastructures of care and education, health and social support. Asking about young children’s perspective on their own unique early childhood is arguably the most crucial starting point for policy and practice. It is argued that none of the strategies implemented or proposed will “magically work” unless the general problems are made right first and ‘every child needs – consistency of care and education – before you can give them anything more specialist.[28]

Upon this, programmes should be structured well and detail casework for each individual case. Staff should be trained, supervised and be representative of the workload in order to match demand. The remedy requires ‘adequate endurance and intensity – this is not quick fix.’[29]The longer it takes to intervene, the more intensive the problems become and the more it costs to deal with. Estimated costs include special pre-school, school, intensive foster care, residential care, psychiatry, social services, health services, involvement with criminal justice and damages to others. In conclusion, within the climate of today, everyone appears in agreement that although it is never too late to turn a child’s life around, “As they reach adolescence the probability of changing the course of their life gets less and less.”[30]

Although I am in agreement with early intervention, in order to progress development successfully, an integrated policy is required so that a trial and error strategy can be avoided. There seems to be no shame in admitting that we ‘need some indicators to show what kind of programme is needed for what kind of family at what time.”[31]



Submission from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) (2005) Every Child Matters- Education and Skills Select Committee.

Wider Determinants & Inequalities (2005) Interventions: Crime and Fear of Crime.

Lane B, (2005) Youth Crime Prevention- An Overview. Home Office Publications.

Cambridge University Press, (2000) Young children who commit Crime, Cambridge University Press Online.

Boyd, J (2007) Children and crime: early intervention is the key.

Government Publication: (1997) No More Excuses: A new approach to tackling youth crime in England and Wales.

Jerrom, C (2007) Youth Justice: The Bigger Picture on the youth justice system.

Jenny Boyd, Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent and Vivian Hill talk to Natalie Valios (2007) Children and crime: early intervention is the key. P.1

Text Books

Feldman, M.A (2003) Early Intervention- The essential readings. Blackwell Publishing.

Farrington, D.P & Welsh, B.C (2006) Saving Children from a life of Crime – Early risk factors and effective interventions. Oxford University Press.

Burke, R.H (2003) An introduction to Criminological Theory. Willan Publishing.

Galvin, K.M & Byland, C.L & Brummel, B.J (2003) Family Communication (6th Ed). Person Publishing.

Lemert, C (2002) Introduction to Sociological life (2nd Ed). Rowman & Littlefield Publishing.

Maguire, M & Morgan,R & Reiner, R (2002) Handbook of Criminology (3rd Ed). Oxford Publishing.


Crime and Disorder Act 1998

Children Act 2004

Draft Bill building on responses to the September 2003 consultation ‘Youth Justice.





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[1] Jenny Boyd, Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent and Vivian Hill talk to Natalie Valios (2007) Children and crime: early intervention is the key. P.1

[2] Saving Children from a Life of Crime Early Risk Factors and Effective Interventions David P. Farrington and Brandon C. Welsh October 2007

[3] Ibid., P.2

[4] Young children who commit crime: Epidemiology, developmental origins, risk factors, early interventions, and policy implications :Development and Psychopathology (2000), 12: 737-762 Cambridge University Press doi:10.1017/S0954579400004107Published online by Cambridge University Press 16Jan2001

[5] Rolf Loeber David P. Farrington (2000) Child Delinquents: Development, Intervention, and Service Needs.

[6] Government Publication (1997) No More Excuses: A new approach to tackling youth crime in England and Wales

[7] Ibid.,

[8] Wider Determinants & Inequalities (2005) Interventions: Crime and Fear of Crime. See: Ottawa charter, Canada (1986), In relation to the relationship between health and early intervention.

[9] For a more informed discussion see: Wider Determinants & Inequalities (2005) Interventions: Crime and Fear of Crime.

[10] Submission from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) (2005) Every Child Matters- Education and Skills Select Committee. Ch.2

[11] Ch.4.Ibid.

[12] Boyd, J (2007) Children and crime: early intervention is the key.

[13] Submission from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) (2005) Every Child Matters- Education and Skills Select Committee. Ch.5.

[14] Ch.5 Ibid

[15] Wider Determinants & Inequalities (2005) Interventions: Crime and Fear of Crime.

[16] Government Publication (1997) No More Excuses: A new approach to tackling youth crime in England and Wales

[17] Jerrom, C (2007) Youth Justice: The Bigger Picture on the youth justice system.P.2

[18] If the requirements of an order are not complied with, it will be open to the local authority to commence care proceedings under Section 31(1) (a) of the Children Act 1989.

[19] Where there is non compliance and no responsible adult present, the police might use powers already available to them under section 46 of the Children Act 1989 to remove the child to other suitable accommodation.

[20] Lane B, (2005) Youth Crime Prevention- An Overview. Home Office Publications.

[21] Rolf Loeber David P. Farrington (2000) Child Delinquents: Development, Intervention, and Service Needs.

[22] Both published 2003.

[23] Lane B, (2005) Youth Crime Prevention- An Overview. Home Office Publications.

[24] Jerrom, C (2007) Youth Justice: The Bigger Picture on the youth justice system.

[25] Jenny Boyd, Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent and Vivian Hill talk to Natalie Valios (2007) Children and crime: early intervention is the key. P.3

[26] Ibid. Vivian Hill discusses the problems she faces as a consultant educational psychologist at the institute of education, university of London.P.4

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid. Jeyarajah-Dent discusses. P5

[29] Ibid.

[30]Friedrich Losel Ibid.

[31]Friedrich Losel Ibid.


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