Statement of the Problem
Conduct problems in youth are a broad spectrum of “acting-out” behaviours, ranging from relatively minor oppositional behaviours (e.g., yelling, temper tantrums) to more serious forms of antisocial behaviour (e.g., violence, aggression, destructiveness, stealing). As a cluster, these behaviours have been referred to as “oppositional,” “antisocial,” “conduct-disordered,” and “delinquent.” Prevalence rates for conduct disorder have been estimated at approximately 2.1%; thus, there are estimated to be more than 14,000 children in BC affected by serious conduct problems1 – with even more demonstrating less serious conduct problems, such as oppositional defiant disorder.
Youth violence and other serious conduct problems are significant social, public health, and economic problems in Canada and throughout the world. Youth crime in Canada has continually decreased since 1991. Between 2009 and 2019, youth charges fell 51%.2 However, youth crime continues to be a significant concern, as adolescents account for a disproportionate amount of crime compared to other age groups.
Importantly, the vast majority of adolescent offenders display conduct problems, with the most serious pattern beginning in early childhood. Approximately 50% of children with conduct problems experience ongoing chronic antisocial difficulties and related problems, including substance abuse, risky sexual behaviour, interpersonal partner violence, child abuse perpetration, serious mental health problems (e.g., depression), and increased mortality from a variety of causes, including violence, substance abuse, suicide, and disease (e.g., cancer, cardiovascular disease).
As a result, the social and economic costs associated with child and adolescent conduct problems are enormous, affecting victims and the justice system, and of course resulting in tremendous lost human potential. The value to society of diverting a single youth from a life of criminal activity ranges from $3.2 to $5.5 million.3 Therefore, the importance of research on the development and treatment of conduct problems among Canadian youth is undeniable.
Accordingly, extensive research has increased understanding of the many processes involved in the development of severe youth conduct problems and the development of effective preventive and treatment interventions. A number of interventions have shown short-term effects on reducing youth conduct problems, and a smaller number have demonstrated durable effects over significant time periods. However, efforts to either treat or prevent serious forms of adolescent conduct problems (such as violence) have had limited success over the long term.
- Waddell, C., Shepherd, C., Schwartz, C., & Barican, J. (2014, June). Child and youth mental disorders: Prevalence and evidence-based interventions. Research report for the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development. Children’s Health Policy Centre, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC. Available from https://childhealthpolicy.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/14-06-17-Waddell-Report-2014.06.16.pdf
- Moreau, G., Jaffray, B., & Armstrong, A. (2020, October 29). Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2019. Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X. Retrieved from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/85-002-x/2020001/article/00010-eng.pdf?st=XaQmHYaP
- Cohen, M. A. & Piquero, A. R. (2009). New evidence on the monetary value of saving a high risk youth. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 25, 25-49.