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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

WashU: Social Service Contact Is Opportunity for Later Crime Prevention

Children served by multiple publicly funded systems for issues such as family poverty, maltreatment, and mental health disorders are more likely to exhibit criminal behavior into adulthood, according to new research from the Washington University in St. Louis Brown School Public Health Program.


[Photo: Dr. Melissa Jonson-Reid]

Researchers studied records of 8,587 youths with histories of maltreatment and/or poverty, using data from publicly funded agencies such as child welfare, emergency room, Medicaid, and juvenile and criminal justice. The goal was to identify patterns of system contact by individuals in childhood that might shed light on targets for intervention to prevent adult offending.

“Groups with higher rates of offending persisting into adulthood were characterized by involvement with multiple publicly funded systems in childhood and adolescence,” wrote co-authors Dr. Melissa Jonson-Reid, professor WashU and Director of the Center for Violence and Injury Prevention; and Dr. Charlotte Lyn Bright, associate professor at the University of Maryland.

Whether children living in poverty become offenders as adults appeared to differ according to the child’s history of other risks like maltreatment and mental health history.

“Although less than 25 percent of this vulnerable child population developed offending behaviors, this does not lessen the import of the need to address these vast social inequalities as part of a public health approach to preventing serious and persistent offending,” the authors concluded.

The study was published on-line in the American Journal of Public Health.

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