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Tackle the Root Causes of Juvenile Delinquency: Family-Based Early Intervention

Tianyin Yu, University of New Haven

Executive Summary

Early onset of delinquent behavior is a predictor of chronic offending. To maximize the cost-effective benefits in fighting crime, policies need to take a proactive, multifaceted approach starting as early as the prenatal stage, with three concerns in mind – improving physical health of mother and child, improving family environment/parenting skills, and improving pre-school education. This policy brief is intended to reach the decision makers in the United States Department of Justice. Adequate funding should be set aside for family-based programs that start as early as the prenatal stage and continue across early childhood (5 years old). For cost effectiveness, programs should adopt a narrow targeting strategy and enroll populations at the highest risk: low-income, teenage mothers with no previous births.


Juvenile delinquency has long been identified as an enduring phenomenon in the United States. In 2010 alone, approximately 1,642,646 arrests were made of individuals under the age of 18 (Snyder, Cooper, & Mulako-Wangota, 2012). This number has gradually decreased in recent years, but it still makes up about 9% of all arrests in the United States (Puzzanchera & Kang, 2017). Another manifestation of the problem is the arrest rate. In 2014, 3,084 out of 100,000 persons age 10 to 17 were arrested, compared to 4,151 out of 100,000 persons age 18 and over (Puzzanchera & Kang, 2017).

One cannot over-emphasize the critical role the early years play in shaping the rest of a person’s life. Possible explanations of how minor youthful delinquency leads to chronic offending have been extensively discussed (e.g., Moffitt, 1993; Zara & Farrington, 2016). Once ensnarled in the justice system, many young people continue a bleak life that is characterized by school dropout, dearth of employment skills, and a lack of other prosocial skills essential to living a crime-free life. A high recidivism rate is one manifestation of this phenomenon. Every year, about 630,000 inmates are released from federal and state prisons (Carson, 2018). About 44% of this population will be rearrested during their first year after release. Within a decade, over 80% will be rearrested (Alper & Durose, 2018). In addition, chronic offenders with a high number of convictions are more likely to have behavioral problems before age 14 (Zara & Farrington, 2016). Not only does this population of chronic offenders suffer from a ruined, crime-ridden life, but they also take a heavy toll on victims and taxpayers, and burden the society with a significant financial and human cost. The average cost of confining a young person under the most expensive option totals $407.58 per day, or $148,767 per year (Justice Policy Institute, 2014). As a result, developing programs to effectively prevent juvenile delinquency not only helps build a safer society, but also enhances the quality of life of many stakeholders.


During 1980s and 1990s, policies were directed at deterring juveniles from deviant behavior through education and discipline. However, research has confirmed that popular programs launched around that time, such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), Scared Straight, and Boot Camps, were ineffective and sometimes even harmful (Sherman et al., 1997). Similar results also were observed in school-based individual counseling and peer counseling programs (Lipsey, 1992) and leisure-time enrichment programs (Sherman, Sommers, & Manno, 2000).

Reasons for why these programs failed have been widely discussed. Some attributed the failure of deterrence-based programs to their confrontational nature and lack of rehabilitative components (e.g., prosocial skills training) (Klenowski, Bell, & Dodson, 2010). School-based programs also have limitations. Schools are generally lacking in terms of specialized knowledge and resources. This is especially true when taking into consideration the task of transforming high-risk youths on a routine basis (Loeber & Farrington, 2000). The most important reason, however, may be the timing of these interventions. By the time youths reach these programs, most of them already have accumulated a long list of arrests, live a life surrounded by delinquent peers, or are accustomed to antisocial interactions with parents, schools, and the community (Zigler, Taussig, & Black, 1992). It is therefore not surprising that these programs tend to have limited impacts on juvenile offenders. 

During recent decades, research has shifted its focus to preventative intervention (e.g., Reynolds, Ou, Mondi, & Hayakawa, 2017; Sherman et al., 1997). Rather than wait, programs now look to prevent before problems occur. There is mounting evidence indicating that these prevention programs are more effective than reactive approaches (Reynolds et al., 2017; Zagar & Busch, 2009). In fact, some have proposed a notion of “the earlier the better” (Junger, Feder, & Côté, 2007, p.305).

One type of such intervention program involves early family-based intervention. Timewise, childhood and adolescence represent the most critical stages of one’s life. Physical, emotional, and cognitive capabilities develop during these early years. Bonding and attachment are formed through interaction with adult caregivers. Experiences acquired during these periods, whether good or bad, can have long lasting effects on the rest of a person’s life. Three key aspects related to early family life have been identified – physical health of mother and child, family environments/parenting styles, and a child’s pre-school cognitive behavior development.

Physical Health of Mother and Child

There has been considerable evidence supporting the association between maternal physical health while pregnant and a child’s antisocial behavior and other outcomes. Prenatal alcohol exposure, for example, has been found to result in childhood intellectual disability, deficits in learning, attention and motor development, and hyperactivity (see Thompson, Levitt, & Stanwood, 2009). Studies also have found a link between a mother’s heavy cigarette smoking during pregnancy and her child’s disruptive behaviors (Hutchinson, Pickett, Green, & Wakschlag, 2010). In addition, children born with perinatal complications are more likely to develop violent behaviors (Kandel & Mednick, 1991). This body of evidence strongly supports that physical health of mother and child matters in predicting the various future outcomes, including problematic behaviors.

Family Environments/Parenting Styles

The family environment during one’s formative years plays a key role in shaping the person’s various future outcomes. Children who grow up in a nurturing and caring family, forming secure relationships with adults, are equipped with healthy emotional management and other prosocial skills, benefiting them for the rest of their life (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2004). On the other hand, youths raised in unstable, abusive family environments tend to have poor problem-solving skills and behavioral problems (Derzon, 2010). In addition, offenders with histories of adverse childhood experience (ACEs) – for example, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and emotional, physical neglect – are found to be more difficult to rehabilitate and are more likely to recidivate than those without such experiences (Baglivio, et al., 2014).

Parents, and in many cases mothers, are usually the first and only person a child can rely on. Given the degree of intimate dependence of the child on his or her parents, it would be equally detrimental if such an intimate relationship is hampered. A common syndrome, maternal depression, has been linked to negative child outcomes (Brennan, Hammen, Katz, & Brocque, 2002). The negative impacts of harsh parenting and neglectful parenting practices also have been extensively acknowledged (Berthelot et al., 2015; Wolford, Cooper, & McWey, 2019).

Child Care Quality

Having a caring and stable family environment is one thing, but providing high quality child care is quite another. Research has long established the importance of high quality child care and various future outcomes, such as one’s emotional management skills and other cognitive capability, which are essential for a prosocial lifestyle (O’Connell, Boat, & Warner, 2009; Reynolds et al., 2017). Parents from low socioeconomic families, in contrast, are usually less educated and have lower literacy levels comparing with those from more advantaged families. Studies reveal that parents from low socioeconomic families spend substantially less time and effort on their children compared with parents from higher socioeconimic families (Hart & Risley, 1992). The amount of talking by parents to their children also varies dramatically across families of varying socioeconomic backgrounds (ranging between 200 words per hour to almost 4,000 words per hour) (Hart & Risley, 1992). As a result, children from low socioeconoic families are often ill-equiped in terms of language development, cognitive ability, and readiness for school when they reach school age (Thomas, Forrester, & Ronal, 2013; Richards, Bacon-Shone, & Rao, 2018).

What appear to be minor differences at the beginning may gradually turn into bigger differences in school performance, future employment opportunities, and other prosocial skills. In fact, research has shown that improving the quality of child care during the immediate years following birth makes a difference in preventing future problematic behaivors (e.g., Maxwell, Bryant, & Miller-Johnson, 1999). Exisiting programs that target specifically at preschool education, such as through Child-Parent Centers, have been shown to be cost-effective in crime prevention (Temple, White, & Reynolds, 2010)

Given the above findings, it would not be surprising to see early interventions targeting these key aspects of a youth’s life exhibiting the greatest impact. A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of family-based crime prevention programs, for example, concluded that these programs had an average effect size of .321, which translates into a decrease in offending from 50% to 34% (Farrington & Welsh, 2003).  

Pre-Existing Intervention 

As stated earlier, many juvenile delinquency intervention programs often target juveniles who already have displayed delinquent behaviors. While important, these programs tend to have limited impact on those who have accumulated a series of disadvantages by the time they reach the program. Nevertheless, some family-based programs that take a multidimensional approach have been proven effective, such as Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT). Other programs, such as the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) and the High/Scope Perry Preschool program, adopt a proactive approach and intervene well before the problems emerge.

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT)

Developed in 1985, MDFT is a family-based treatment program designed for adolescents showing substance abuse and other behavior problems (Liddle, 2010). Comprehensive treatment programs like MDFT recognize the important role of the family in the treatment of youths’ behavioral problems. MDFT targets multiple domains of a youth’s life, including individual biological, social, cognitive, personality development, and relationships with others (Liddle, 2010). A key component of MDFT is its emphasis on both internal family factors and external environments, such as schools, churches, and other institutions. By integrating interventions across multiple domains, MDFT was found to be more effective in reducing adolescents’ self-reported violent crimes than alternative treatments (van der Pol, Henderson, Hendriks, Schaub, & Rigter, 2018). Its effect on property crimes, however, was not significantly different from alternative treatments (van der Pol et al., 2018). While several meta-analyses have acknowledged the effects of MDFT (e.g., Baldwin, Christian, Berkeljon, Shadish, & Bean, 2012), its limitations have been noted as well. One of the major issues is the amount of human labor involved in such programs. Therapists have to work intensely and frequently with the adolescents, their family, and the larger system (e.g., juvenile courts, school teachers, neighborhood) (see Baldwin et al., 2012). As a result, the case load for each therapist is small, making the program more costly.

Other similar family-based approaches to youth delinquent problems include Brief Strategic Family Therapy (BSFT), Functional Family Therapy (FFT), and Multisystemic Therapy (MST) (see Baldwin et al., 2012, for a review). All are aimed at improving internal family interactions as well as interactions with the external system. Meta-analysis shows that compared with treatment as usual and alternative treatments (e.g., group therapy, individual therapy, family education therapy), family-based therapies yield modestly larger effect sizes amongst participants with delinquency or substance abuse problems (Baldwin et al., 2012).

The Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP)

While programs like MDFT take a reactive approach, the NFP takes an entirely different route. Instead of waiting for the problem to occur, NFP seeks to prevent the problem from happening in the first place. 

Drawing heavily from the gene-environment interaction research (Rutter, Moffitt, & Caspi, 2006), the NFP is designed to improve neuro-developmental, cognitive, and behavioral functioning of the child with a multidimensional strategy – improving the child’s prenatal health, mother’s child-rearing skills, and family functioning (Olds, 2008). The program targets low-income mothers with no previous live births. In the research, most of the participants were unmarried and adolescent mothers. These populations were chosen because they tend to have higher rates of problems, such as poor birth outcomes and child abuse (Overpeck, Brenner, Trumble, Trifiletti, & Berendes, 1998). Starting around the second trimester of preganancy, nurses visit the mothers at various frequencies depending on needs, and they continue until the child reaches age two. On average, each visit lasts 75-90 minutes (Olds, 2008).

Program content varies at different stages: during pregnancy, emphasis is placed on improving the mother’s diet and substance abuse control; after delivery, the nurses provide instruction to the mothers and other caregivers on how to physcially and emotionally support the child, in an effort to promote parent-child interaction. In addition, nurses make an effort to promote fathers’ involvement and help mothers to make smart choices in regards to education, employment, and future pregnancies (Olds, 2008). 

Outcomes are measured in three ways – prenatal health behaviors, pregnancy and birth outcomes, and sensitive, competent care of child. Evidence shows that women in the NFP program did significantly better for each of the three measurements, comparing with their counterparts in the control group (see Olds, 2008). Nurse-visited women did significantly better in terms of the quality of their diets, and such an effect was especially prominent among smokers – those in the NFP program had substantial reductions in the number of cigarettes they smoke by the 32nd week following enrollment, compared to a slight increase in the control group (Olds, Henderson, Tatelbaum, & Chamberlin, 1986). In terms of pregnancy and birth outcomes, women in the NFP program had fewer kidney infections, and among women who smoked, nurse-visited women had 75% fewer preterm deliveries than those in the control group (Olds et al., 1986). In addition, women in the NFP program were found to be less harsh and more attentive to their infants than those in the control group (Olds, 2008). The NFP families reported fewer cases of child abuse and neglect, and mothers in the NFP program had fewer subsequent pregnancies, fewer therapeutic abortions, and fewer months of using welfare and food stamps (Olds, 2008). By the time the children reached age four, mothers and children in the NFP program were found to be more sensitive and responsive toward one another than those in the control group (Olds, et al., 2004). Children in the NFP program also had a series of other positive outcomes in terms of language, executive functioning, and behavioral adaptation (Olds, et al., 2004).

Another important finding is that the difference between treatment and control groups are most pronounced in families with the greatest social disadvantages – namely, poor and unmarried teens (Olds, 2008). Evidence is clear that most married women and women from higher socioeconomic families are capable of providing competent care of their children without external assistance (Olds, 2008). On the other hand, low-income, unmarried women are at a much higher risk of prenatal and perinatal health problems and fare worse in their child rearing skills (Overpeck et al., 1998).

Besides programs like the NFP, which emphasize the importance of prenatal and the period immediately following birth, there are still others that focus on the child’s preschool years, namely, before age 5. The High/Scope Perry Preschool Program is one that has been cited extensively for its success.

The High/Scope Perry Preschool Program 

The High/Scope Perry Preschool Program is an early intervention program first designed for disadvantaged children in the early 1960s. One hundred and twenty-three low-income African American children who were assessed to be at high risk of school failure were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups at age 3 or 4. Since then, researchers have followed these children until they turned 40, generating a rich set of data reflecting various aspects of their lives (Schweinhart et al., 2005). Significant differences were observed in highest level of schooling, economic performance, criminal records, IQ, and many other aspects related to life in general between the two groups (Schweinhart et al., 2005). Multiple studies have conducted a cost-benefit analysis of this program (e.g., Heckman, Moon, Pinto, Savelyev, & Yavitz, 2009) and confirmed that on average, the program saved about $6 to $9 for each dollar spent (Heckman et al., 2009).

Policy Options

Overall, the available evidence suggests the following policy options:

Policy Option 1: Enroll youths with early problematic behaviors (such as substance abuse, truancy, and gang involvement) into multidimensional family therapy programs, before their delinquent behaviors escalate to more severe criminal offending.


  • It is well targeted. It is unlikely these programs will include participants who do not need such interventions, since we know each participant is enrolled in the program for a reason.
  • A multidimensional approach has been proven effective, when the individual, family, and external prosocial institutions (e.g., schools, churches, and neighborhoods) are all involved in assisting the youth.


  • As stated earlier, by the time youths enter these programs, they may already have lived several years in dysfunctional family environments (including the most crucial years immediately following birth). Early biological risk factors would be too late to alter by this stage.
  • It is costly. Substantial time, expertise, and human labor is required because of the multidimensional nature. Therapists must work with the individual, the family, and the external system.

Based on the existing research, Policies 2 and 3 are both intended to prevent, rather than intervene after problems occur.

Policy Option 2: Promote the physical health of mother and child starting from the prenatal stage, promote parenting skills after the child is born, help parents plan for the future, and provide preschool education for the child from age 3 to 5. As can be seen, programs based on this policy would span a longer period of time, covering the prenatal stage until the child reaches 5 years old, with a different focus at each stage.


  • Because this policy covers multiple aspects of the child’s early life, it is expected to create the largest crime prevention effect.


  • The time span and its requirement on resources and human labor may make it more costly.
  • Despite its focus on a highly risky population, some children may never engage in deviant behavior, regardless of participating in such programs. Therefore, it is inevitable that some resources spent on these programs will be unnecessary.

Policy Option 3: This policy is composed of three interventions – promote physical health of mother and child starting from the prenatal stage, promote parenting skills after the child is born, and help parents plan for the future. This option is a compromised version of Option 2.


  • It covers the most crucial period from the prenatal stage to the child’s third birthday, and therefore retains the potential to make influences on both biological and environmental factors in the child’s early developmental stages.
  • It costs less since it omits the preschool education intervention.


  • By omitting the last intervention, children who are at the highest risk may still be ill-equipped when they enter school.


Early preventative interventions have many advantages compared to reactive approaches. The first and perhaps most important reason is because children at early ages are more amenable to change. Research has long established the importance of one’s first five years in shaping the rest of an individual’s life (Grantham-McGregor, et al., 2007; Hurley, Yousafzai, & Lopez-Boo, 2016). Poor nutrition, harsh parenting styles or abuse, and lack of early learning opportunities during this critical developing stage will result in irretrievable problems that the individual has to bear for the rest of his or her life. Once the child passes this stage and starts to display behavioral problems by age 13 or 14, the benefit generated by one dollar spent reacting to juvenile delinquency is not comparable to the benefit generated by the same dollar spent on improving prenatal health, parenting skills, and early education a decade earlier.

While Policy 2 requires time and resources, its cost-effectiveness still merits serious consideration. A thorough economic analysis of preventative and early intervention programs conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy concludes that NFP programs for low income women may generate a net benefit of $17,180 for each family (Aos, Lieb, Mayfield, Miller, & Pennucci, 2004). Early childhood education programs for low income 3- and 4-year-olds also are cost-effective, with an estimated net benefit of $9,901 per family (Aos et al., 2004).

Not only are prenatal and early childhood interventions cost-effective, but they also prevent many crimes from happening in the first place. Its most direct benefit is that less people suffer (emotionally, financially, and/or physically) from the negative impacts of the potential criminal event. When we talk about victims, especailly violent crime victims, we are not talking about a single individual, but families and friends associated with these individuals – they are someone’s daughter, someone’s father, or someone’s sibling. Simiarly, individuals who otherwise would suffer from a ruined, crime-ridden life will now be able to finish school, find a decent job, and raise children of their own. The effect will likely extend far beyond one generation.

Regarding the issue of wasted resources, this problem can be mitigated by adopting a narrowed targeting approach. That is, programs can target those low socioeconomic, low-income, single mothers who are expected to receive the greatest benefit from the program. Therefore, when we take everything into consideration, Policy 2 appears to be the most cost-effective and sensible approach society can take to prevent juvenile delinquency. It not only saves taxpayers substantial amounts of money, but also helps to reduce the inherent disparities between advantaged families and families of lower socioeconomic status, many of which suffer from inter-generational crime problem

Annotated Bibliography

Alper, M., & Durose, M. R. (2018). 2018 update on prisoner recidivism: A 9-year follow-up period (2005-2014). U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from

This report summarizes the prisoner recidivism data on state prisoners released in 30 states in 2005 with a 9-year follow-up period. Five in 6 (83%) state prisoners released were arrested at least once during the 9 years following their release. It shows the high recidivism rate among former prisoners.

Aos, S., Lieb, R., Mayfield, J., Miller, M., & Pennucci, A. (2004). Benefits and costs of prevention and early intervention programs for youth. Olympia, MA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy.

            This technical appendix describes the sources, assumptions, computational methods, and estimates of a benefit-cost analysis of prevention and early intervention programs. It includes evaluations on most of the early intervention programs including DARE, Early Childhood Education for Low Income 3- and 4-Year-Olds, Early Head Start, Functional Family Therapy, Juvenile Boot Camps, Nurse Family Partnership, etc.

Baglivio, M. T., Epps, N., Swartz, K., Huq, M. S., Sheer, A., & Hardt, N. S. (2014). The prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) in the lives of juvenile offenders. Journal of Juvenile Justice, 3(2), 1-23.

The authors examined the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in a population of 64,329 juvenile offenders in Florida and used ACE composite scores to predict risk of reoffending. After comparing the results with previous ACE studies conducted on adults, they found that juvenile offenders in their study were much less likely to report zero ACEs than studies conducted on adult non-delinquent samples. 

Females were found to have a higher ACEs prevalence rate than males, yet females had lower levels of delinquent involvement, indicating a need for gender-specific intervention approaches.

Their suggestion that prevention efforts should start before the youths’ initial contact with the justice system very well aligns with the current argument.

Baldwin, S. A., Christian, S., Berkeljon, A., Shadish, W. R., & Bean, R. (2012). The effects of family therapies for adolescent delinquency and substance abuse: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 38(1), 281-304.

This meta-analysis summarizes findings from 24 studies comparing effects of four family-based therapies: Brief Strategic Family Therapy, Functional Family Therapy, Multidimensional Family Therapy, and Multisystemic Therapy to alternative therapies. It concludes that these therapies tend to have larger effects than alternative therapies. At the end, Bean discussed in detail the advantages and limitations of these therapies from the perspective of a clinician.

Berthelot, N., Ensink, K., Bernazzani, O., Normandin, L., Luyten, P., & Fonagy, P. (2015). Intergenerational transmission of attachment in abused and neglected mothers: The role of trauma-specific reflective functioning. Infant Mental Health Journal, 36(2), 200-212.

This study examined how mothers who experienced childhood abuse and neglect transmit their negative feelings to their offspring, and how that resulted in infant attachment disorganization. This provides a good example of the consequences of childhood abuse and neglect.

Brennan, P. A., Hammen, C., Katz, A. R., & Brocque, R. M. (2002). Maternal depression, paternal psychopathology, and adolescent diagnostic outcomes. Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(5), 1075-1085.

This study examined the relationship between maternal depression, among many other factors (e.g., paternal expressed emotion, paternal depression), and youth diagnostic outcomes (e.g., depression). It serves as one supporting evidence that maternal depression have negative impact on children.

Carson, E. A. (2018). Prisoners in 2016. U.S. Department of Justice. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from

This report summarizes state and federal prison data in 2016. It also compares the 2016 data to previous years. It offers an estimate of how many people are released from state and federal prisons during the recent years.

Derzon, J. H. (2010). The correspondence of family features with problem, aggressive, criminal, and violent behavior: A meta-analysis. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 6, 263-292.

This meta-analysis examined the relationship between 21 family features/characteristics and current or later aggressive, criminal, or violent behaviors. It found that family features are potentially useful for identifying juveniles at risk for deviance. It provides support to the current argument that youths raised in unstable, abusive family environments tend to have poor problem-solving skills and behavioral problems.

Farrington, D. P., & Welsh, B. C. (2003). Family-based prevention of offending: A meta-analysis. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 36(2), 127-151.

This meta-analysis summarized the effectiveness of family-based crime prevention programs. It found that the most effective types of programs used behavioral parent training, while the least effective types were those based in schools. It provides support to the current policy brief that family-based programs are more effective than alternative strategies.

Grantham-McGregor, S., Cheung, Y. B., Cueto, S., Glewwe, P., Richter, L., Strupp, B., & Group, t. I. (2007). Developmental potential in the first 5 years for children in developing countries. Lancet, 369(9555), 60-70.

            This study examines the effect of poverty, malnutrition, poor health, and unstimulating home environments on children younger than 5 years in developing countries. These disadvantaged children are likely to do poorly in school and subsequently have low incomes, high fertility, and provide poor care for their children, thus contributing to the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1992). American parenting of language-learning children: Persisting differences in family-child interactions observed in natural home environments. Developmental Psychology, 28(6), 1096-1105.

            This study includes forty families to represent typical American families in size, race, and socioeconomic status and studies the parent-child interactions in the home. It was found that the amount of parenting per hour and the quality of the verbal content were strongly related to the social and economic status of the family and the subsequent IQ of the child.

Heckman, J. J., Moon, S. H., Pinto, R., Savelyev, P. A., & Yavitz, A. (2009). The rate of return to the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program. Working Paper, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge. Retrieved from

This economic research paper examined the rate of return to the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program. It reviewed previous studies, pointed out their limitations and got a more conservative estimation of the rate of return. They found that returns are statistically significantly different from zero for both males and females. This paper supports the current policy brief in that the these preschool programs save taxpayer money.

Hurley, K. M., Yousafzai, A. K., & Lopez-Boo, F. (2016). Early child development and nutrition: A review of the benefits and challenges of implementing integrated interventions. Advances in Nutrition, 7(2), 357-363.

            This paper reviews the theoretical and practical benefits and challenges of implementing integrated nutrition and early child development (ECD) interventions along with the evidence for best practice and benefit-cost. It includes a thorough introduction of how poor nutrition and lack of early learning opportunities contribute to the loss of developmental and academic potential and lead to lifelong health and economic disparities in children younger than 5 years old.

Hutchinson, J., Pickett, K. E., Green, J., & Wakschlag, L. S. (2010). Smoking in pregnancy and disruptive behaviour in 3-year-old boys and girls: An analysis of the UK millennium cohort study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 64(1), 82-88.

This study found that boys whose mothers persistently smoked throughout pregnancy were at significant risk of conduct and hyperactivity-inattention problems compared with sons of non-smokers. This was also a dose effect. Daughters of light or heavy smokers were at significant risk of conduct-only problems.

Junger, M., Feder, L., & Côté, S. M. (2007). Policy implications of present knowledge on the development and prevention of physical aggression. European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, 13, 301-326.

This paper summarized the empirical evidence on physical aggression and its policy implications on how to prevent physical aggression. Seven types of interventions are proposed, among which many align with the recommendations in the current policy brief (improving physical health of mother and child, early intervention rather than later ones, preschool programs, and improving parenting).

Justice Policy Institute. (2014). Calculating the full price tag for youth incarceration. Washington, DC: Justice Policy Institute. Retrieved from

This report estimated the cost of youth incarceration, data on reoffending and recidivism, and how youth, while incarcerated, can become victimized. In the end it proposed several recommendations, such as relocating funding from incarceration to community-based options. This report helps in that it highlights the high cost of youth incarceration.

Kandel, E., & Mednick, S. A. (1991). Perinatal complications predict violent offending. Criminology, 29(3), 519-529.

This study examined the association between perinatal events and the development of violent and property crime. It found delivery events predicted adult violent offending, especially in high-risk subjects and recidivistically violent offenders. It provides evidence that physical condition of mother and child has an impact on the child’s future behavior.

Klenowski, P. M., Bell, K. J., & Dodson, K. D. (2010). An empirical evaluation of juvenile awareness programs in the United States: Can juveniles be "Scared Straight"? Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, 49, 254-272.

            This article does a review of studies and tries to determine if there is sufficient empirical evidence to suggest that juvenile awareness programs such as Scared Straight are effective in crime prevention. The results show that programs that use confrontational techniques do not work.

Liddle, H. A. (2010). Multidimensional family theraphy: A science-based treatment system. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 31(2), 133-148.

This paper introduced MDFT in detail. It also reviewed the empirical evidence supporting its effectiveness.

Lipsey, M. W. (1992). Juvenile Delinquency Treatment: A Meta-Analytic Inquiry into the Variability of Effects. In T. D. Cook, H. Cooper, D. S. Cordray, H. Hartman, L. V. Hedges, R. V. Light, . . . F. Mosteller (Eds.), Meta-Analysis for Explanation (pp. 83-127). Beverly Hills: Sage.

This book chapter summarized various juvenile delinquency treatments and their effects using a meta-analysis. One of the findings is that a number of treatment approaches were associated with mean effect sizes of virtually zero, and some appear to produce negative effects – most notably, deterrence treatments.

Maxwell, K., Bryant, D., & Miller-Johnson, S. (1999). A six-county study of the effects of Smart Start Child Care on kindergarten entry skills. Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Frank Porter Graham Center.

This study examined whether children living in North Carolina who attended child care centers that participated in many Smart Start quality improvement efforts have better skills when they enter kindergarten than do a comparison group of children from other child care centers. They found that the Smart Start group did have better cognitive and language skills than the comparison group. Fewer children in the former group were rated by their kindergarten teachers as having behavior problems than the latter. It provides support that high quality childcare makes a difference in the child’s behavior.

Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescene-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy. Psychological Review, 100(4), 674-701.

In this seminal paper, Moffitt proposed a dual taxonomy of offending behavior – the adolescence-limited offenders, and the life-course-persistent offenders. Moffitt explained how the two types of offenders are essentially different from each other, and how the life-course-persistent offenders accumulate a series of disadvantages throughout their life course from the very beginning of their life. It supports the current paper in illuminating the importance of early childhood intervention.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child. (2004). Young children develop in an environment of relationships. Boston: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. Retrieved from

This working paper summarized the importance of high quality, reliable relationships with important people in a child’s life, such as parents, teachers, and other care givers. Failure of establishing such secure relationships with adults in the child’s formative years will result in a series of developmental problems. It offers support that a caring, stable family life is essential to a child’s development.

Olds, D. (2008). Preventing child maltreatment and crime with prenatal and infancy support of parents: The Nurse-Family Partnership. Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, 9(S1), 2-24.

This paper introduced the Nurse-Family Partnership, including its content, its design, and findings from three randomized controlled trials. Among the many positive outcomes, prenatal health behaviors of the mothers, preganancy and birth outcomes, and care of child all improved comparing with the comparison group. Child abuse, neglect, and injures also reduced significantly.

Olds, D. L., Henderson, C. R., Tatelbaum, R., & Chamberlin, R. (1986). Improving the delivery of prenatal care and outcomes of pregnancy: A randomized trial of nurse home visitation. Pediatrics, 77, 16-28.

            This article evaluated a comprehensive program of prenatal and postpartum nurse home visitation. It was find that nurse-visited women attended childbirth classes more frequently; made more extensive use of the nutritional supplementation program; made greater dietary improvements; reported their babies’ fathers became more interested in their pregnancies; were accompanied to the hospital by a support person during labor more frequently; reported talking more frequently to family members, friends, and service providers about their pregnancies and personal problems; and had fewer kidney infections, comparing with women randomly assigned to comparison groups. Other findings include reductions in cigarette smoking and preterm delivery, and positive effects on child’s birth weight.

Olds, D. L., Robinson, J., Pettitt, L., Luckey, D. W., Holmberg, J., Ng, R. K., . . . Henderson, C. R. (2004). Effects of home visits by paraprofessionals and by nurses: Age 4 follow-up results of a randomized trial. Pediatrics, 114, 1560-1568.

            This study examines the effects of prenatal and infancy home visiting by paraprofessionals and by nurses from child age 2 through age 4. Comparing with control subjects, women who were visited by paraprofessionals worked more and reported a greater sense of mastery and better mental health. They also had fewer subsequent miscarriages and low birth weight newborns. Mothers and children who were visited by paraprofessionals also displayed greater sensitivity and responsiveness toward one another.

Overpeck, M. D., Brenner, R. A., Trumble, A. c., Trifiletti, L. B., & Berendes, H. W. (1998). Risk factors for infant homicide in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 339, 1211-1216.

This study assessed risk factors for infant homicide and timing of deaths. More than 80 percent of infant homicides are considered to be fatal child abuse. They found that the most important risk factors were a second or subsequent infant born to a mother less than 19 years old, as compared with a first infant born to a mother 25 years old or older. Other risk factors include receiving less than 12 years of education. This supports that childbearing at an early age was associated with child abuse.

Puzzanchera, C., & Kang, W. (2017, August 7). Easy Access to FBI Arrest Statistics 1994-2014. Retrieved from

            This website lists the FBI arrest statistics from year 1994 to 2014. The results can be displayed in the form of counts, rates, and percent of total. It also can be divided into adults and juveniles.

Reynolds, A. J., Ou, S.-R., Mondi, C. F., & Hayakawa, M. (2017). Processes of early childhood interventions to adult well-being. Child Development, 88(2), 378-387.

This article describes the processes through which early childhood interventions promote adult well-being. Evidence is from longitudinal cohort studies of the Child-Parent Centers and other preventive interventions beginning by age 4. Relatively large effects of participation have been documented for school readiness skills at age 5, parent involvement, K-12 achievement, remedial education, educational attainment, and crime prevention.

Richards, B., Bacon-Shone, J., & Rao, N. (2018). Socioeconomic correlates of early child development: Gradients from six countries in the East Asia-Pacific region. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 42(6), 581-587.

This study examined socioeconomic gradients in different domains of early child development using data from the East Asia-Pacific Early Child Development Scales. Findings indicated that (i) with the exception of Motor Development, all SES indicators predicted all domains of development; (ii) SES–development associations were largest for Cognitive Development, Socio-emotional Development, and Language and Emergent Literacy; (iii) wealth and maternal education were the best predictors of early child development; and (iv) significant SES–development associations were found in all countries except Cambodia.

Rutter, M., Moffitt, T. E., & Caspi, A. (2006). Gene-environment interplay and psychopathology: Multiple varieties but real effects. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 226-261.

This review evaluated research evidence on gene-environment interplay, which is one of the theories that guide NFP.

Schweinhart, L. J., Montie, J., Xiang, Z., Barnett, W. S., Belfield, C. R., & Nores, M. (2005). The High/Scope Perry Preschool study through age 40: Summary, conclusions, and frequently asked questions. Ypsilanti: High/Scope Educational Research Foundation. Retrieved from

This report briefly summarized the design and findings of the High/Scope Perry Preschool program. Following up the participants through age 40, they found improvements across multiple domains of participants’ life, including arrest record, health, family, children, earning, educational level, and IQ. It concluded that high-quality preschool programs for young children living in poverty contribute to their intellectual and social development in childhood and their school success, economic performance, and reduced commission of crime in adulthood.

Sherman, L. W., Gottfredson, D. C., MacKenzie, D. L., Eck, J., Reuter, P., & Bushway, S. D. (1997). Preventing crime: What works, what doesn't, what's promising. National Institution of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice. Washington: Office of Justice Programs.

This research brief summarized the which prevention programs work, what doesn’t, and what’s promising. It serves as a succinct source for those who want to get a quick look of the effectiveness of various programs.

Sherman, L. W., Sommers, C. H., & Manno, B. V. (2000). The safe and drug-free schools program. Brookings Papers on Education Policy, 3, 125-171. Retrieved from

This paper explores the alternatives to the Safe and Drug-Free Schools funding, which was proved to be ineffective. It pointed out the problems of spending money on nonexistent or minor problems and called for a model of more evidence-based government. School based leisure-time enrichment programs were among the programs that did not achieve crime prevention effects.

Snyder, H. N., Cooper, A. D., & Mulako-Wangota, J. (2012). Arrest Data Analysis Tool. Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics:

The Arrest Data Analysis Tool can be used to generate tables and figures of arrest data from 1980 onward. Data include national arrest estimates, customized either by age and sex or by age group and race, for many offenses. Data on local arrests is also available through this tool.

Temple, J. A., White, B. A., & Reynolds, A. J. (2010). Cost-effective crime prevention: Economic analysis of the Chicago Child-Parent Centers early education program. Loyola Public Interest Law Reporter, 15, 181-197.

This article summarizes a cost-benefit analysis of the Chicago Child-Parent Center (CPC) early childhood intervention with a focus on the effect of the CPC preschool program on reductions in juvenile and adult crime. It finds that the economic benefits of the program far exceeded the initial costs. This serves as another support for the preschool programs.

Thompson, B. L., Levitt, P., & Stanwood, G. D. (2009). Prenatal exposure to drugs: effects on brain development and implications for policy and education. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 10, 303-312.

This study examined the effects of prenatal exposure to drugs on brain development. Effects of illegal drugs of abuse (cocaine, amphetamine/methamphetamine) and legal drugs of abuse (nicotine, alcohol) were included. Prenatal alcohol exposure can cause intellectual disability, deficits in learning, attention and motor development and hyperactivity.

van der Pol, T. M., Henderson, C. E., Hendriks, V., Schaub, M. P., & Rigter, H. (2018). Multidimensional family therapy reduces self-reported criminality among adolescents with a cannabis use disorder. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 62(6), 1573-1588.

This study examined whether MDFT decreased criminal offending among cannabis abusing adolescents, as compared with individual psychotherapy (IP). They found that MDFT lowered the number of violent offenses more than IP, but such differences was not seen for property crimes.

Wolford, S. N., Cooper, A. N., & McWey, L. M. (2019). Maternal depression, maltreatment history, and child outcomes: The role of harsh parenting. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 89(2), 181-191.

This study examined the impact of harsh parenting on child outcomes, especially for women living with depressive symptoms and whom also experienced child maltreatment. Positive, significant associations were found between maternal depressive symptoms and child internalizing and externalizing symptoms at age 6 and 12.

Zagar, R. J., & Busch, K. G. (2009). Empirical risk factors for delinquency and best treatments: Where do we go from here? Psychological Reports, 104, 279-308.

This paper reviewed existing treatments for youth delinquency and violence. Prenatal care, home visitation, prevention of bullying, prevention of alcohol and/or drug abuse, mentoring, life skills training, and functional family therapy are among those proved to be effective. It also proposed better controlled treatments in higher doses, with narrow targeting of the highest-risk youth.

Zara, G., & Farrington, D. P. (2016). Chronic offenders and the syndrome of antisociality: Offending is a minor feature! Irish Probation Journal, 13, 40-64.

            This article use qualitative case studies to delve into the psychology of chronic offenders. It includes detailed life stories of these offenders, covering important events in their childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood. These life stories show people how one event leads to another and eventually contributes to a miserable life filled with delinquency and criminal involvement.

Zigler, E., Taussig, C., & Black, K. (1992). Early childhood intervention: A promising preventative for juvenile delinquency. American Psychologist, 47(8), 997-1006.

This paper reviewed some of the known and suspected causes of juvenile delinquency and discussed results of early childhood intervention programs, including the Perry Preschool Project, the Syracuse University Family Development Research Program, the Yale Child Welfare Research Program, and the Houston Parent-Child Development Center. The authors concluded that most of these early intervention programs tend to produce long lasting improvements in school performance and they all appear to reduce antisocial behavior.

Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash



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