Does Family Support Reduce Youth Crime in Socially Disadvantaged Communities?

Ross Homel1, Kate Freiberg1, Jacqueline Homel1, Sara Branch1, Daniela Vasco1, Samantha Low-Choy1
1Griffith University, Mt Gravatt, Brisbane, Australia,

The long-term effects on children of routine family support in disadvantaged communities are not known. Pathways to Prevention (2002-2011) was a comprehensive early prevention initiative centred on family support, delivered by Mission Australia in partnership with Griffith University and seven schools in a disadvantaged area of Brisbane, Australia. We report effects on child social-emotional wellbeing and classroom behaviour (Grades 1-7), and on offending (10-16 years).

Offending data for 615 children who were preschoolers in 2002-3, were obtained from Youth Justice Queensland. Risk factors were measured by survey at the transition to high school for 58% of these children. Teachers used a validated instrument to assess classroom behavior annually. Children reported their own wellbeing using an interactive computer game, developed by the researchers, which yields four psychometrically valid measures. Using coarsened exact matching, subsamples of children whose parents received Pathways support between Grades 1 and 7 were matched with non-Pathways children on: baseline scores on the dependent variables; age; gender; ethnicity; and child-reported level of adversity. Changes in behavior and wellbeing in intervention and control groups were compared using Bayesian multilevel modeling. Because offender numbers were low (6%), tree models fit using recursive partitioning helped explore effects on offending.

Pathways reduced crime for most ethnic groups through improved classroom behavior, social-emotional confidence, and supportive home relationships, but did not improve attachment to school. Family support has many benefits for disadvantaged children and parents, but to maximize impact on youth crime it should incorporate evidence-based activities that specifically address key risk factors.


Ross Homel has a special interest in improving the lives of children and families in disadvantaged communities. He analyses crime, violence, and related social problems, and develops and tests evidence-based ways of preventing these problems.


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