When youth experience emotional or child abuse they have an elevated risk to commit crimes later in life. New research discovers education and academic achievement can lessen this risk of crime.
Researchers at the University of Michigan and University of Washington found that when formerly abused children achieve good grades and don’t skip school, the likelihood of self-reported, chronic criminal behaviors declines significantly.
This new ongoing study is one of the few in the nation to follow the same individuals over several decades to learn about how child maltreatment — described as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect — impacts development and how some are resilient.
“Child abuse is a risk factor for later antisocial behavior,” said study co-author Todd Herrenkohl, the Marion Elizabeth Blue Professor of Child and Family at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.
The study, whose other authors are University of Washington researchers Martie Skinner and Ashley Rousson, appears in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.
“Education and academic achievement can lessen the risk of crime for all youth, including those who have been abused (encountered stress and adversity).”
In addition to crime/antisocial behavior, the researchers also investigated effects on physical and mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, intergenerational transmission of violence, and socioeconomic disadvantage.
Previous studies about child maltreatment have not distinguished youth and adult chronic offenders from non-offenders and those who only perform antisocial behavior in adolescence — individuals called desisters.
“Given that offending in adolescence can persist into adulthood if left unaddressed, it is important to identify and act on factors that predispose individuals to ongoing patterns of antisocial behavior,” said Hyunzee Jung, the study’s lead author.
Researchers studied data from 356 people in childhood (ages 18 months to six years) in 1976-1977, school-age (eight years) in 1980-1982, adolescent (18 years) in 1990-1992 and adulthood (36 years) in 2010.
Parent reports, self-reports — which included crime/antisocial behavior — and parent-child interactions measured various types of abuse and neglect, and responses also factored educational experiences and criminal behavior against others or property.
Researchers discovered the abuse led to people more likely to commit crimes, but this was not the case for those who had been neglected in their early years.
Successful school experiences kept teens from both committing crimes and having antisocial behaviors. But for youths suspended in grades seven to nine, the chronic offending habits and antisocial behaviors continued later in life, the investigators report.
Herrenkohl said the primary prevention of child abuse is a critical first step to reducing antisocial behavior at the transition from adolescence into adulthood.
“Strategies focused on helping school professionals become aware of the impacts of child abuse and neglect are critical to building supportive environments that promote resilience and lessen risk for antisocial behavior,” he said.
Source: University of Michigan