Household income, neglect and juvenile crime

Criminology Research Council grant ; (17/95-6)

The study argued that policies designed to reduce the level of economic stress or attenuate its effects, and early intervention programs designed to reduce the risk of child neglect, have an important role to play in long-term crime prevention.

Findings of the study for urban areas were that juvenile participation in crime (measured as rates of Children's Court appearances for property or violent offences) was positively correlated with the following measures of social and economic stress: poverty, unemployment, single parent families, residential stability, and crowded dwellings.

Rates of reported child neglect and child abuse were also positively correlated with these measures of social and economic stress, and juvenile participation in crime was positively correlated with rates of reported neglect and abuse. These correlations indicate that postcodes with high levels of social and economic stress also tend to have high rates of child neglect and abuse and high rates of juvenile offenders. Using regression analysis, poverty, single parent families and crowded dwellings were found to be the most likely explanatory variables for juvenile participation in crime. Together these three measures accounted for 56 per cent of the variation across postcodes in the level of juvenile participation in crime.

The rate of child neglect, on its own, was found to explain 57 per cent of the variation in juvenile participation in crime across postcodes. When juvenile court appearances for property and violent offences were considered separately, the rate of child neglect on its own accounted for 58 per cent of the variation across postcodes in the rate of juvenile participation in property crime and 49 per cent of the variation across postcodes in the rate of juvenile participation in violent crime.

Neglect was found to account for most of the explained variation in juvenile participation in crime, when included in a regression model as a joint predictor with poverty, single parent families and crowded dwellings. Similar results were found when abuse replaced neglect but this finding was probably due to the high correlation between neglect and abuse. A path analysis showed that neglect was by far the most important causal influence on juvenile participation in crime.

Taken as a whole, these findings indicate that poverty, single parent families and crowded dwellings affect the level of juvenile participation in crime mainly by increasing the rate of child neglect.

The findings indicate that, assuming other factors remained unchanged, an increase of 1000 additional neglected children would result in an additional 256 juveniles involved in crime. Alternatively, and again assuming other factors remained unchanged, an increase of 1000 additional poor families would result in an additional 141 juveniles involved in crime. The increase in juvenile court appearances resulting from such increases in neglect or poverty would be 466 for each additional 1000 neglected children or 257 for each additional 1000 poor families. The increase in criminal offending would be substantially larger given that only a small proportion of offences resulted in court appearances.

The pattern of results for rural areas was generally similar to that found in urban areas, in that neglect accounted for most of the explained variation in juvenile participation in crime across postcodes. However, most of the relationships were weaker.