Statement of the Problem
Conduct problems in youth are a broad spectrum of “acting-out” behaviors, ranging from relatively minor oppositional behaviors (e.g., yelling, temper tantrums) to more serious forms of antisocial behavior (e.g., violence, aggression, destructiveness, stealing). As a cluster, these behaviors have been referred to as “oppositional,” “antisocial,” “conduct-disordered,” and “delinquent.” Prevalence rates for conduct disorder have been estimated at approximately 4.2%; thus, there are more than 40,000 children in BC affected by serious conduct problems – with even more demonstrating less serious conduct problems, such as oppositional defiant disorder.1
Youth violence and other serious conduct problems are significant social, public health, and economic problems in Canada and throughout the world. Although youth crime has declined in both rate and severity over the past 10 years in Canada (consistent with that of the adult crime rate), adolescents were accused by police of over 125,000 criminal offenses in 2012, including more than 39,000 violent crimes.2
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. In addition, most research on risk and protective factors associated with youth conduct problems, as well as much of the intervention research, was conducted in the United States. Thus, given the multicultural composition of the Canadian population, the extent to which this work is relevant in Canada is not yet known.
- Waddell, C., Wong, W., & Hua, J. (2004, April). Preventing and treating conduct disorder in youth. Research report prepared for the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development. Available from www.childhealthpolicy.sfu.ca/research_reports_08/rr_pdf/RR-4-04-full-report.pdf
- Perreault, S. (2013). Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2012. Component of Statistics Canada catalogue no. 85-002-X
- 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.