Call to act early on conduct problems

16:00, Mar 27 2013

Children with early conduct problems were 10 times more likely to be at risk of violent offending and end up in prison, University of Otago, Christchurch-based Professor David Fergusson said in Queenstown yesterday.

Prof Fergusson is the founder and director of the Christchurch Health and Development Study, a 35-year study of a birth cohort of 1265 children born in the Christchurch region in mid-1977, and was in the resort to address the Secondary School Principals Association Symposium.

The children in the study were tracked through to adulthood and by age 25 had presented with significantly higher rates of nicotine dependence, substance abuse, teen parenthood, mental health and partnership issues.

"These kids have got a very difficult future in many areas. Even though they have an elevated risk of crime, the majority don't turn out to be criminals, but they do turn out to have many problems," Prof Fergusson said.

"It's quite clear that early conduct problems are a strong precursor for early offending."

Prof Fergusson urged Education Minister Hekia Parata to ensure New Zealand schools used effective programmes available to them to address conduct issues at a young age.


A wide range of effective programmes were available for use at home and at school and it was important that schools and families used these, he said.

Results of preliminary research findings suggested that children (3 to 7 years) provided with the Incredible Years Parent Programme showed substantial reductions in a wide range of problem behaviours, with about three-quarters showing significant improvement, Prof Fergusson said.

Similar programmes were available for all age groups and adopted a problem-solving approach rather than a punitive one.

They had proved to be more effective than wilderness, military-style boot camp approaches, mentoring programmes and restorative justice.

Restorative justice was very effective in bringing justice but not in modifying behaviour, Prof Fergusson said.

The Southland Times