Review of the Roots of Youth Violence: Literature Reviews

Volume 5

Early Childhood Development Strategies

In recent years, criminologists have begun to recognize what has long been known in the field of medicine: prevention is better than cure. Medical experts widely agree that the key to preventing serious health problems lies with the identification of key risk factors. For example, poor diet, smoking, and lack of physical exercise have all been identified as significant risk factors for heart disease, cancer, and stroke. It has also been shown that the extent of these risk factors in a given population can be reduced by public education campaigns designed to improve diet, stop smoking and increase physical activity. The goal of this chapter is to briefly outline what is known about early risk factors for violent offending and identify effective prevention strategies that can be used to address these risk factors.

After a half-century of research, criminologists now know a great deal about the early childhood risk factors associated with adolescent delinquency and later adult offending (see Farrington and Welsh, 2007; Welsh and Farrington, 2007; Sherman et al., 2006; Farrington and Welsh, 2006; Greenwood, 2006). This chapter deals with early childhood risk factors at both the family and individual level of analysis. For example, one of the strongest family characteristics associated with violent criminal offending is having a criminal or violent parent. Other family-related risk factors include poor parenting or child-rearing skills, inadequate parental supervision, inconsistent or harsh disciplinary practices, parental conflict, and parental disruption (see reviews in Farrington and Welsh, 2007; Seigel and McCormick, 2006). On the other hand, among the most important individual-level factors that predict violent offending are poor social skills, impulsiveness, poor anger management skills, lack of empathy, low intelligence and poor school performance (see Atkins, 2007; Edens et al., 2007; Englander, 2007; Jolliffe and Farrington, 2004; Pratt el al., 2002; Lipsey and Derzon, 1998; Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990). Researchers also acknowledge that risk factors at the family level (i.e., poor parental supervision) may cause or enhance risk factors at the individual level (see Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990). In the following sections, we highlight programs that have been proven to effectively address risk factors at both the family level (home visitation strategies, parental training, etc.) and the individual level (early intervention strategies, social skills training, pre-school intellectual development, etc.).12

Family-Based Prevention

In a recent newspaper interview, Dr. Fraser Mustard, a distinguished scholar and famous early child development advocate, stated that, “If you want a highly competent population with limited behaviour problems and no violence, then you don’t have any choice but to invest in early childhood development.... Since parents have the dominant effect on a child, you want to make damn certain you give parents every opportunity to be good” (Rushoway, 2007: A1). Mustard’s claims are supported by a growing body of criminological research that demonstrates that family-based programs targeting early childhood development are effective in preventing subsequent youth delinquency and adult criminality (see reviews in Farrington and Welsh, 2007; Welsh and Farrington, 2007; Bilukha et al., 2005; Bernazzi and Tremblay, 2006; Greenwood 2006; Farrington and Welsh, 2003; Kumpfer and Alvarado, 2003). In this section, we discuss two major types of family-based programming: 1) general parent education (including home visitation programs); and 2) parent management training.

Home Visitation Programs

The research literature has identified the first two to four years of life as crucial to childhood development. Infants and young children who do not receive proper parenting or care during this period are at much higher risk of developing various health and behavioural problems, including criminality and aggression. A large number of home visitation programs have thus been developed to provide “at-risk” mothers (usually defined as young, single and poor) with intensive, in-home training with respect to prenatal health, infant nutrition and parenting skills. Many of these programs also provide temporary childcare, and counselling for young mothers with respect to future pregnancies, child abuse, and employment opportunities (see Greenwood, 2006).

The primary objective of most home visitation programs is to educate new parents on how to improve the life chances of their children from a very young age, often beginning in the final trimester of pregnancy. Important goals include the prevention of pre-term births, the prevention of low-birth weights, the promotion of healthy child development, the prevention of child abuse and neglect, and the promotion of school readiness (Farrington and Welsh, 2007).

Some home visitation programs also focus on improving parental well-being by linking parents to various community services that may assist them with their employment, educational and health needs. As stated by Gomby, Culross and Behrman (1999: 5), home visitation programs can help professionals “understand the environments in which families live, gain a better understanding of the families’ needs, and therefore tailor services to meet those needs. The relationships forged between home visitors and parents can break through loneliness and isolation and serve as the first step in linking families to their communities.”

A number of longitudinal studies have demonstrated that, compared with control group subjects, children who participate in home visitation programs are less likely to engage in serious violence and criminality in adolescence (see reviews in Farrington and Welsh, 2007; Welsh and Farrington, 2007; Greenwood, 2006; Bilukha et al., 2005). For example, in a major meta-analysis of different crime prevention strategies, Farrington and Welsh (2003) found that, compared with control group subjects, children involved in home visitation programs were much less likely to exhibit deviant or anti-social behaviour. Biluka and his colleagues (2005) also carried out a systemic review of the role of early childhood visitation programs in preventing adolescent violence. These researchers found that three of the four home visitation programs they examined produced desirable effects (also see reviews in Bernazzani and Tremblay, 2006; Greenwood, 2006).

Research suggests that intensive, highly structured nurse visitation programs are the most effective type of program in this category. However, less-intense programs, often involving social workers or other health-care professionals, have also shown considerable success (see Greenwood 2006). One example of an effectively evaluated nurse visitation program is the Prenatal/Early Intervention Project (PEI).13

The Prenatal/Early Intervention Project (PEI) was developed by David Olds and his colleagues and implemented in Elmira, New York (Olds et al., 1998). The program initially enrolled 400 women prior to their 13th week of pregnancy. Program participants had to be first-time mothers (no previous live births) and either unmarried, less than 19 years of age, or poor (characteristics commonly associated with poor parenting during early childhood). The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: 1) a group that received home visits from a trained nurse during pregnancy; 2) a group that received home visits during pregnancy and the first two years of the child’s life; and 3) a control group that did not receive any home visits at all. Each home visit lasted approximately two hours and mothers were visited once every two weeks. The nurses who conducted the home visits gave advice about prenatal and postnatal care, provided training in infant development and child nutrition, and provided lessons on the importance of avoiding alcohol and smoking during pregnancy (Olds et al., 1998).

After two years, the results of the experiment indicated that home visits caused a significant decrease in both child physical abuse and child neglect (Old et al., 1998). This result is important because other studies suggest that children who are abused or neglected are much more likely to engage in serious violence later in life (see Widom, 1989). Indeed, the results of a 15-year follow-up (which included 315 of the original 400 children) found that the children of the treatment mothers were much less likely to have engaged in adolescent violence and were significantly less likely to have been arrested (see Olds et al., 1998). Importantly, two separate cost-benefit analyses have demonstrated that the taxpayer savings associated with this program are three to four times greater than program costs (see Greenwood, 2006; Aos et al., 2004).

In order to test the generalizability of the results of the Elmira study, the PEI program has been renamed the Nurse Family Partnership and is currently being replicated in both Memphis, Tennessee and Denver, Colorado. Early evaluation results suggest that home visits continue to cause significant improvements on a wide range of outcome variables for both nurse-visited mothers and their children (see Olds et al., 2004). According to Greenwood (2006: 54), the Nurse Family Partnership has now been accepted as a “proven” crime prevention model and there are plans to replicate the program throughout the United States and Great Britain.

Parental Education Plus Daycare

A number of scholars have identified programs that combine parent education with daycare services as “promising” with respect to preventing crime and violence (Greenwood, 2006; Farrington and Welsh, 2007). As with home visitation programs, the parent-training component focuses on teaching parents proper child-rearing techniques and methods for enhancing early childhood development. As discussed by Farrington and Welsh (2007: 125), daycare services must be distinguished from specific intellectual enrichment programs (discussed below). Indeed, unlike intellectual enrichment strategies, daycare is not necessarily focused on preparing children for elementary school. Daycare programs are often only intended to provide basic care for children so that parents can return to work or school. However, research does suggest that, under ideal circumstances, daycare can provide children with a number of important benefits, including improved social, cognitive, sensory and motor skills (see Michel, 1999).

In their meta-analysis, Farrington and Welsh (2003) found that parent education programs that include daycare services can be effective in preventing child anti-social behaviour and adolescent delinquency. According to the research literature, one of the most effective “parent education plus daycare programs” is the Syracuse University Family Development Project (see Lally et al., 1988). This project attempted to improve family and child functioning through a comprehensive parent-training program that also provided daycare services. The program began with a sample of unmarried, poor, pregnant women from Syracuse, New York – most of who were of African-American heritage. The program provided these women with weekly training and assistance with respect to parenting skills, health, nutrition, child discipline and other child-related issues. In addition, their children received free, full-time daycare (designed to increase their child’s intellectual abilities) up to five years of age.

The final experimental group consisted of 82 children. The matched control group consisted of 74 children. These children were followed up to age 15. Importantly, the evaluation results suggest that the strongest program effects were on delinquency. For example, by 15 years of age, only two per cent of the children who had been enrolled in the program had been referred to the juvenile court for criminal offences, compared with 17 per cent of the children in the control group. Additional results suggest that the seriousness of offending was also much higher among those children who did not receive the program. Interestingly, female children in the experimental group also showed better academic performance and school attendance. Male participants, for some reason, did not reap these additional program benefits (see Lally et al., 1988).

One possible drawback of this program is cost. Indeed, providing free, full-time daycare can be quite expensive. One study, for example, found that the costs of running the program exceeded program benefits by a margin of three to one (Aos et al., 2001). However, as noted by Farrington and Welsh (2007; 131), this particular study only considered savings with respect to involvement in the criminal justice system. It did not consider other cost benefits, including parental employment and other aspects of child development.

Parent Management Training

Criminological research indicates that long-term, chronic offenders often manifest aggressive, anti-social behaviours in early childhood. As a result, a number of early intervention strategies – including Parent Management Training – have been developed to help families identify and deal with young children who display problematic behaviours. Parent Management Training refers to a range of treatment procedures in which parents are trained to alter their child’s behaviour within the home environment. Early research (see Patterson, 1982) demonstrated that the parents of violent, anti-social children were often poor parents. These parents often failed to properly communicate behavioural standards to their children, failed to properly monitor or supervise their children’s behaviours, failed to reward their children for pro-social behaviour, and failed enforce rules promptly and consistently (Patterson et al., 1992).

Parent management training commonly involves lessons – usually delivered in a group setting – on effective child-rearing practices. These lessons include how to observe what a child is doing, how to monitor behaviour over long periods, how to clearly state house rules, how to enforce rules promptly and consistently, how to make rewards and punishments contingent on behaviour, and how to negotiate disagreements so that conflicts do not escalate. A number of high-quality evaluations suggest that, when properly delivered, parent management training programs can significantly reduce adolescent delinquency and anti-social behaviour. For example, in their meta-analysis, Farrington and Welsh (2003) found that, on average, parent management training reduced adolescent delinquency by 20 per cent (compared with control group subjects). Indeed, Farrington and Welsh (2007: 127) conclude that only multi-systemic therapy (discussed at length in Chapter Five of this report) appears to be more effective at preventing crime than parent management training (for similar conclusions see Duncan and Magnuson, 2004 and Kazdin, 1997).

The Preventative Treatment Program (PTP), developed in Montreal by Professor Richard Tremblay and his colleagues, is a specific example of an effective early intervention strategy that utilizes the basic principles of parent management training. PTP targets boys, ages seven through nine, who have been assessed as having high levels of disruptive behaviour in kindergarten. The program involves home-based parent training with school-based social skills training. Parents receive an average of 17 training sessions that focus on monitoring their children’s behaviour, giving positive feedback for pro-social behaviour, using punishment effectively and managing family conflicts. The boys receive an average of 20 sessions aimed at improving social skills, developing self-control and learning how to manage interpersonal conflicts. At age 12, boys who received PTP were significantly less likely to manifest both delinquent and violent behaviours than control group subjects were. At age 15, those receiving the PTP intervention were significantly less likely than untreated boys were to report gang involvement, drug and alcohol use, criminal behaviour, fighting and having friends arrested by the police (Tremblay et al., 1996).

Another example of an effective early intervention strategy is the Incredible Years Series (IYS). IYS targets children, ages two to ten, who demonstrate high rates of aggression, defiance or oppositional/impulsive disorders. IYS is a set of three comprehensive, developmentally based curriculums for parents, teachers and children. They are designed to promote emotional and social competence and treat behavioural problems. The Incredible Years for Parents has three different components. The Basic parent series is the core of the program and is essential for effective program delivery. The other parent, teacher and child components are highly recommended. The Basic program emphasizes parenting skills known to promote children’s social competence and reduce problem behaviours (i.e., how to play with children, how to help children learn, how to provide effective praise, how to use incentives, how to set rules, how to discipline children effectively, etc.). The Advance program (the second component of the parent training series) emphasizes parental social skills (i.e., effective communication skills, anger management, problem-solving between adults, etc.). The Supporting Your Child’s Education component of the program teaches parents how to promote their children’s academic skills (i.e., how to set goals, how to assist with homework, how to cooperate with teachers, etc.). The Incredible Years for Teachers module focuses on the development of effective class management skills, including the effective use of praise and encouragement, managing inappropriate classroom behaviour, how to teach empathy, and how to build positive relationships with students. Finally, the Incredible Years for Children provides children training in emotional literacy, empathy, friendship skills, anger management, interpersonal problem solving and how to be successful in school. Multiple randomized control group evaluations of the IYS approach have documented a reduction in childhood aggression and a reduction in conduct problems at both home and school. Evaluations have also documented improvements in children’s cognitive problem-solving abilities and anger management and social skills (see Webster-Stratton, 2001; Greenwood, 2006).

Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is an intervention program that targets the parents of older youth, 11 to 18 years of age, at risk of or already demonstrating signs of delinquency, violence, substance abuse, conduct disorder, defiant disorder, or disruptive behaviour disorder. As described by Greenwood (2006: 70-71), FFT focuses on “altering interactions between family members, and seeks to improve the functioning of the family unit by honing the family’s skills at problem solving, enhancing emotional connections between family members, and strengthening parental ability to provide appropriate structure, guidance, and limits to their children.”

FFT typically requires between eight and 26 sessions of direct service time for referred youth and their parents. The number of sessions required largely depends on the severity of the individual case. Service delivery is flexible and depends on individual needs. Services are generally delivered by a two-person team and can include specially trained teachers, social workers, counsellors, mental health professionals, and probation officers. Clients can receive services within the home as well as in clinics, schools, juvenile correctional facilities, community centres, or at the time of re-entry from institutional placement (Alexander et al., 1998).

The success of FFT stems from its ability to enhance protective factors and reduce exposure to risk. The program is also known for efforts to prevent early treatment termination. FFT involves five basic steps or phases that build upon on another. These steps include: 1) Engagement (designed to prevent youth and their parents from dropping out of treatment early); 2) Motivation (designed to change maladaptive emotional reactions and beliefs and increase alliance, trust, hope, and lasting change); 3) Assessment (designed to clarify individual, parental, and outside relationships and how they contribute to problematic behaviours); 4) Behaviour Change (provides training in communication skills, parenting skills, problem-solving, anger management and conflict resolution) and 5) Generalization (during which case management strategies are developed based on family functional needs, community-based environmental constraints and the available resources provided by FFT therapists (Alexander et al., 1998).

A number of high-quality randomized trials of FFT have demonstrated that it is effective in reducing youth delinquency and violence, drug use, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and disruptive behaviour disorder. Furthermore, compared with control group subjects, FFT participants are less likely to graduate into more restrictive social services (i.e., youth custody, group homes, foster care, etc.) and are significantly less likely to become involved in the adult criminal justice system (see Greenwood, 2006; Alexander et al., 1998).

Individual Prevention

Individual-based prevention programs target risk factors identified through interactions with specific children. As discussed above, these risk factors include impulsivity, lack of empathy, hyperactivity, low intelligence and low academic attainment. Unlike family-based prevention strategies, which frequently target the behaviour of both parents and children, individual-based programs most often focus exclusively on the behaviour of individual children (Duncan and Magnuson, 2004). However, it should be noted that several successful individual intervention programs also help parents develop the skills they require to deal with their children’s behavioral problems.

Rigorous evaluation studies have identified two types of individual-based programs – preschool intellectual enrichment programs and child skills training – that are effective in preventing future adolescent delinquency and adult criminality (Losel and Beelmann, 2003; Farrington and Welsh, 2003; Currie, 2001). These major program types are outlined briefly in the next two sections.

Preschool Intellectual Enrichment

Preschool intellectual enrichment programs are designed to provide economically disadvantaged children with cognitively stimulating and enriching experiences that are not likely be provided in the home environment. School readiness, improved cognitive skills, improved social skills, improved self-control and emotional development are typically the main goals of these programs. Such programs – often delivered in a daycare setting – focus on providing developmentally appropriate learning curricula, a wide array of cognitive-based activities and training opportunities for parents so that they can better support school activities at home (see Currie, 2001; Duncan and Magnuson, 2004).

A large number of studies have demonstrated that preschool intellectual development programs can significantly reduce anti-social behaviour, adolescent delinquency and adult criminality. For example, a meta-analysis conducted by Farrington and Welsh (2003) found that programs that provided preschool intellectual enrichment for young children reduced future criminal offending by 16 per cent

One of the most well-known programs in this category is the Perry Preschool Project. This program targets economically disadvantaged families with children three to four years of age. The project involves an intensive two-year intervention that operates two to three hours per day, five days a week. As well as a daily preschool classroom component, the program also involves home visitations by highly trained teachers. The primary objective of the program is to provide intellectual stimulation for young children, to improve thinking and reasoning abilities and to ultimately increase future academic achievement (see Schweinhart et al., 2005).

Evaluations of the Perry program have demonstrated that, compared with control group subjects, Perry School participants have much lower levels of adolescent delinquency, less contact with juvenile justice officials, fewer arrests at 19 years of age, less involvement in serious fights, less involvement in youth gangs and less contact with the police. Long-term results indicate that, by 40 years of age, Perry School participants have fewer arrests for both violent and property crimes, higher levels of academic achievement, higher rates of employment, higher mean incomes, greater economic independence, and less reliance on public assistance (Schweinhart et al., 2005). Furthermore, a cost-benefit analysis (conducted when participants were 40 years of age) found that the Perry Pre-School project produced $17 in taxpayer savings for every dollar of program cost. Savings were predicted with respect to the costs of criminal justice system, education, welfare and increased tax revenue (see Schweinhart et al., 2005).

The Child-Parent Centre (CPC) in Chicago is a second pre-school intellectual enrichment program that has been shown to reduce delinquency and violence later in life. The CPC provides economically disadvantaged children, starting at three years of age, with a high-quality, active learning preschool environment. The program also provides family supports. Importantly, unlike the Perry Preschool Project, CPC continues to provide intellectual enrichment activities to participants up to nine years of age. In order to evaluate this program, children who were enrolled in the CPC were matched with children who received regular preschool. The original evaluation sample included 989 children in the experimental group and 550 in the control group. Compared with the control group, evaluation results revealed that, by eighteen years of age, CPC participants were significantly less likely to be arrested for any offence, less likely to be arrested for multiple offences and less likely to be arrested for violent offences. The CPC program also produced a number of additional benefits for participants – including a significantly higher rate of high school completion than control group subjects achieved. A cost-benefit analysis of the CPC program (conducted when participants were 21 years of age), found that every dollar spent on the program produced seven dollars in savings for society. These savings were calculated in terms of averted government expenditures on remedial education and the criminal justice system and in the increased economic well-being of program participants (see Reynolds et al., 2003).

A third example of a successful pre-school intellectual enrichment program is the Carolina Abecedarian Project (CAP). This program also targeted economically disadvantaged children born into multi-risk families. At the beginning of the program, a sample of 111 children, three years of age, were assigned to the program or to a control group. Children in the CAP program received full-time pre-school childcare that focused on the development of cognitive, social and language skills. At age 21, 104 of the original 111 children in the evaluation study (94 per cent) were interviewed. The results found that, compared with the control group, CAP participants were less likely to have been convicted of a crime, less likely to have been incarcerated, less likely to be regular users of illicit drugs and less likely to have become teenage parents. On the other hand, compared with the control group, CAP participants were significantly more likely to have attended university and were significantly more likely to have high status jobs. A cost-benefit analysis of this program found that for every dollar spent on the program, four dollars was saved by society (see Masse and Barnett, 2002).

Child Social Skills Training14

Child social skills training programs typically target the risk factors of impulsivity, low empathy and self-centredness. Such programs are designed to “directly teach children social, emotional and cognitive competence by addressing the appropriate social skills, effective problem solving, anger management, and emotion language” (Webster-Stratton and Taylor, 2001: 178). Programs are usually highly structured and delivered over a relatively short period of time (Farrington and Welsh, 2007).

One major review of the impact of child social skills training programs on anti-social behaviour (including youth delinquency) examined the results of 144 different studies that provided experimental group-control group comparisons (see Losel and Beelmann, 2006; Losel and Beelmann, 2003). This meta-analysis found that almost half of these social skills programs significantly reduced adolescent criminal behaviour (compared with control group participants). On the other hand, only 10 per cent produced negative results (i.e., the control group scored better than the experimental group). This review also found that effective social skills training courses tended to use a cognitive-behavioural approach (see detailed discussion in Chapter Five of this report) and were implemented with older children (over 13 years of age) or with high-risk children who were already exhibiting behavioural problems (see Losel and Beelmann, 2006).

Life Skills Training (LST) is one example of a social skills training program than has been shown to reduce delinquency and violence among youth. LST is a school intervention program that targets students in grades six through eight. The primary objectives of LST include the provision of prevention-related information regarding drug use and criminality, the promotion of anti-drug norms, the development of drug refusal skills, and the development of self-management abilities (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, 2006; National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007).

LST is a three-year intervention strategy implemented in the classroom by teachers or trained health professionals. The program involves 15 classroom sessions in year one, 10 sessions in year two and five sessions in year three. The program consists of three major components: 1) general self-management skills; 2) social skills; and 3) information and skills specifically related to drug use. The self-management module teaches students to examine their self-image, gain insight about their own talents and limitations, set goals for the future, track personal progress, confront personal challenges, and react to problem situations. The general social skills module teaches students how to overcome shyness, gain communication skills, develop assertiveness, learn anger management techniques and realize that aggression is not the only strategy for dealing with problem situations. Finally, the drug resistance module teaches students about common misconceptions about drugs and alcohol. Additionally, students learn and practice various techniques that can help them resist social pressures to use drugs. Throughout the program, skills are taught using such training techniques as basic instruction, demonstration, feedback, reinforcement, role-playing and practice (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, 2006; National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007).

LST has been evaluated numerous times over the past 25 years. Large-scale randomized trials have consistently demonstrated that, compared with control group subjects, LST participants have lower rates of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use and significantly lower levels of delinquency and violent behaviour. Further analysis of LST outcomes also reveals sustained positive results at one year, three years, and six years following program participation. Finally, although originally developed as a program for middle-aged Caucasian children, the efficacy of LST has also been demonstrated among inner-city, economically disadvantaged ethnic populations. In other words, it appears that LST is transferable to various types of communities and neighbourhoods (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, 2006; National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007).

A second example of a successful social skills training program – Participate and Learn Skills (PALS) – was developed and implemented in Ottawa. PALS focused on the development of both sports-related skills and non-athletic skills. The objective was for youth to develop non-academic skills that would serve to increase self-esteem and promote pro-social abilities and role models. Implemented in a public housing development, PALS recruited low-income residents, five to 15 years of age, to participate in various after-school sports, arts and recreational activities. A different housing project, one that did not receive this program, served as a control group. There were 417 children in the experimental site and 488 in the control group location (Jones and Offord, 1989).

Evaluation results indicate that PALS was successful – particularly at reducing rates of juvenile delinquency. Indeed, during the first 32 months of operation, the police charged 80 per cent fewer youths with a crime in the experimental site than in the control site. Positive gains were also documented with respect to skill acquisition, self-esteem and social interactions with same-age peers. A cost-benefit analysis also revealed that for every dollar spent on the PALS program, $2.60 was saved by society (see Greenwood, 2006; Jones and Offord, 1989).

Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) provides a second example of a social skills training program that has shown positive results with respect to reducing youth delinquency. PATHS is a school-based program to be delivered in a classroom setting. Ideally it should be initiated at the beginning of elementary school (grade one) and continue through grade five. Although primarily focused on the school and classroom settings, information and activities are often included for parents. The PATHS curriculum is taught three times per week for a 20-to 30-minute period. It provides teachers with developmentally based lessons for teaching students emotional literacy, self-control, verbal communication skills, empathy, problem-solving, controlling impulses, self-awareness, social competence, positive peer relations and interpersonal problem-solving skills. Teachers receive training in a two-to three-day workshop. They receive additional training and support through biweekly meetings with a curriculum consultant (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, 2006; National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007).

A number of high-quality evaluation efforts have established that, compared with control group subjects, PATHS participants demonstrate improved self-control, increased ability to tolerate frustration, improved thinking and planning skills, the effective use of conflict resolution strategies, decreased school conduct problems, and lower levels of violence and aggression. The program has been proven effective in a number of different settings and with children from different social class and ethnic backgrounds (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, 2006; National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007).

A third example of a promising social skills program is Stop Now and Plan (SNAP). SNAP is a community-based program for pre-adolescent children who have come into contact with or are at risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system. The National Crime Prevention Centre (National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007) has identified this strategy as a model program. SNAP targets children, aged six to 12 years, who display early signs of anti-social or aggressive behaviour. The program employs basic behaviour modification techniques to decrease the risks of future violent and/or criminal behaviour. The program has two learning modules – one for children and one for parents. The core program consists of 10 sessions that are delivered over a 12-week period. Each session is approximately 90 minutes in length. For children at a particularly high risk of developing problem behaviours, an additional three program components are available. These three components focus on in-home family counselling. In the youth course, aggressive behavioural tendencies are altered through various behaviour management strategies, role-playing, problem-solving exercises, generalization activities and social reinforcements. The adult learning module teaches parents how to establish rules against anti-social or aggressive behaviour and effectively discipline rule violations. The program also teaches parents important problem-solving and monitoring skills. SNAP attempts to teach parents and other adult role models (i.e., teachers) the same skills that the child is learning in order to ensure consistency in the treatment of children between the school and home environments (National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007).

Evaluation results demonstrate that SNAP is effective for dealing with children with conduct problems. Randomized trials, for example, have shown that children who participate in the program are twice as likely to avoid a criminal record than control group subjects are. Parents who participate in SNAP also report greater confidence in their ability to raise a child and experience less stress during parent-child interactions. Finally, SNAP appears to work with children and parents from various cultural and racial backgrounds as well as youth from both economically advantaged and disadvantaged communities. One possible drawback, however, is cost. It is estimated that SNAP costs approximately $5,550 dollars per child per year (National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007).

Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT) is a 10-week, school-based intervention program focusing on the prevention of aggression and other conduct problems. LIFT is supposed to be delivered to the entire population of grades one and five students. However, it is especially designed for children living in economically disadvantaged, high-risk communities. LIFT is organized around three main components. To begin with, the classroom component contains of 20 one-hour sessions. Each session follows the same format and is composed of lecture and role-playing, structured group skills practice, skills review, and daily rewards. The second component is a modification of the Good Behaviour Game (GBG). Each class is divided into small groups for playground activities. Children can earn rewards by avoiding negative behaviours and exhibiting positive problem-solving skills. The third component is the parental training module. At this stage, parents are taught how to create a positive home environment that promotes proper supervision and disciplinary practices that reinforce the school-based curriculum. A high-quality evaluation of LIFT indicates positive results with respect to major program goals. Compared with a control group, LIFT participants demonstrated significant decreases in physical aggression on the playground. Interestingly, reductions in aggression were most pronounced for children who had rated the most aggressive during the pre-test period. Finally, compared with the control group, teacher-rating data indicates that LIFT participants had a significant increase in positive social skills and classroom behaviour (Eddy et al., 2000).

The Seattle Social Development Project (SSDP) is a multi-year, school-based program that targets elementary school and middle-school children residing in economically deprived neighbourhoods. SSDP provides both teacher and parent training. Teachers receive instruction that emphasizes proactive classroom management, interactive teaching and cooperative learning. These lessons are designed to minimize classroom disruptions by establishing clear rules and rewards for compliance. Teachers are also taught how to increase children’s academic performance and how to allow students to work in small groups that will assist in the development of social skills. In addition, teachers are given training with respect to developing student communication skills, conflict resolution skills, problem-solving skills and drug refusal skills. During the same period, parents are given training in family management skills that will help them better monitor their children and provide appropriate and consistent discipline. Parents are also taught how to create a positive home learning environment and how to improve their children’s academic performance. Evaluations of SSDP indicate that this program can improve school performance, improve the quality of family relationships and reduce childhood aggression. Furthermore, by grade 11, SSDP participants, compared with control group students, showed reduced involvement in violent delinquency and sexual activity and lower levels of both drug and alcohol consumption (Hawkins et al., 1999).

FAST track is another comprehensive, long-term prevention program that aims to prevent chronic behavioural problems among youth from disadvantaged communities. It is based on the view that anti-social and violent behaviour stems from multiple influences. The program therefore includes the school, the family and the individual in the intervention strategy. The program spans grades one through six and involves five major components.

Parent training occurs in the grade one and emphasizes how to improve children’s academic performance, how to communicate effectively with the school, how to control anger and how to use discipline effectively. Home visitations occur biweekly to reinforce parenting skills, promote parents’ feelings of efficacy and develop parents’ problem-solving skills. Social skills training for students is designed to enhance children’s cognitive and problem-solving skills, improve peer relations, develop self-control and promote friendship maintenance. Academic tutoring is also offered three times a week to improve students’ reading abilities. Finally, a classroom intervention component utilizes the PATHS curriculum (discussed above) to develop students’ emotional competency and self-control and foster a positive peer climate. FAST track also incorporates various home activities in order to ensure parental participation. Early evaluations of FAST track are quite positive. Compared with control group subjects, FAST track participants scored significantly higher on parental and teacher ratings of behaviour and displayed significantly less aggressive, disruptive, and oppositional behaviour in the classroom. Children in FAST track classrooms also nominated fewer peers as being aggressive. The parents of FAST track students were also less likely to endorse the physical punishment of their children and subsequently demonstrated more appropriate disciplinary techniques. Over all, the relationship between FAST track students and their parents seemed to be emotionally warmer and more supportive than the control group samples were (Greenwood, 2006; Conduct Problems Prevention Group, 1999).

Behavioural Monitoring and Reinforcement (BMRP) is another school-based intervention that has shown positive results among juvenile populations. BMRP targets students in grades seven and eight from low-income, urban, racially mixed neighbourhoods. The program is designed to challenge youth cynicism about the outside world and related feelings of hopelessness and alienation. BMRP promotes the development of school and home environments that help youth realize that their actions can bring about desired results. This task is accomplished by eliciting the participation of teachers, parents and the youth themselves. The two-year program begins in the grade seven and includes the monitoring of student actions, rewards for appropriate behaviour, and increasing the lines of communication between students, teachers, and parents. Program staff members check school records for daily attendance information, lateness and official disciplinary actions. They also contact parents regularly by letter, phone or home visits to inform them of their children’s progress. Teachers submit weekly reports assessing the students’ punctuality, preparedness and behaviour in the classroom. Students receive rewards for positive evaluations. Each week, students meet with staff members to discuss recent behaviours, learn the relationship between actions and their consequences, and role-play acceptable alternatives to problem behaviours. Students are also rewarded for refraining from disruptive behaviour during these meetings (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, 2006; National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007).

Evaluations of BMRP have demonstrated both short-and long-term positive outcomes. Program participants, for example, have consistently demonstrated higher grades and better attendance than control group students have. Results from one-year follow-up studies have also shown that BMRP students, compared with control students, have significantly lower levels of delinquency, drug abuse, and school-related problems (suspensions, expulsions, absenteeism, academic failure, etc.). Finally, a five-year follow-up study found that, compared with control group subjects, BRMP participants were much less likely to have been arrested or convicted of a crime (Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, 2006; National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007).

Finally, it is important to note that many anti-bullying programs also fit into the “social skills training” category. Bullying is a form of interpersonal violence that can damage both victims and offenders. Research suggests that there is a positive correlation between bullying and more serious violence in later adolescence and early adulthood. In other words, reducing bullying may prevent the onset of more serious forms of violent behaviour. Many anti-bullying programs have been developed, but one stands out as a “proven” strategy: the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (BPP). BPP is a multi-component, universal, school-based program that aims to reduce and prevent bullying behaviour. It is designed to restructure the school environment to eliminate the opportunities and rewards that exist for bullying. BPP targets students in elementary, middle and junior high schools. Every student within the school participates. However, special interventions are developed for children who are either the victims or perpetrators of bullying. BPP has three main components. To begin with, the school-wide component involves the administration of a confidential student questionnaire to assess the extent and nature of bullying within a particular school, the development of a student-teacher conference to discuss bullying and plan interventions, the development of specific school rules against bullying, the formation of a Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee, and increased supervision of students at the times and locations where bullying is most likely to take place. Class-level interventions include classroom meetings about bullying and peer relations, the establishment and enforcement of class rules, and teacher meetings with both parents and students. Finally, individual-level interventions are created specifically for individual perpetrators and victims. These interventions often involve discussions between students, parents, teachers and counsellors. The program is supposed to be implemented for a minimum of one year. Several large evaluation studies have found that BPP causes a 30 per cent to 70 per cent reduction in bullying and bullying victimization. The program also reduces vandalism, alcohol use, fighting and theft. Additionally, the program has caused significant improvements in classroom order and more positive attitudes towards schoolwork (see Pepler et al., 2006; Olweus, 1993; Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, 2006; National Crime Prevention Centre, 2007).


The research evidence is clear: programs that target early childhood development can significantly reduce crime and violence in both adolescence and early adulthood. However, the academic literature also makes it clear that the benefits of early childhood development programs are by no means limited to crime and violence prevention. Indeed, effective programming that targets young children and their parents can also improve both physical and mental health, increase levels of academic achievement, increase employment prospects, increase yearly incomes, etc. In other words, early childhood development programs can greatly increase the quality of life for all citizens (see reviews in Haith and Benson, 2008; Chandler, 2008; McCain and Mustard, 1999; McCain and Mustard, 2002). Unfortunately, despite renewed spending at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, Canada still ranks last among developed nations in spending on early childhood development programs (see Rushoway, 2007).


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12 Farrington and Welsh (2007) also recognize that both schools and the wider community can be locations for effective childhood programming. However, in this report, school and community programs are discussed in other chapters.

13 It is important to note that this program has recently been renamed the Nurse-Family Partnership Program (NFP).

14 It should be noted that many child social skills training programs are school-based. Thus, several of the programs discussed in this section are also discussed in Chapter Seven of this report (the chapter that focuses on school-based initiatives.


Volume 1. Findings, Analysis and Conclusions

Volume 2. Executive Summary

Volume 3. Community Perspectives Report

Volume 4. Research Papers

Volume 5. Literature Reviews