The role of the transition to high school in understanding risk and protective factors for serious youth offending

Dr Jacqui Homel1, Professor  Ross Homel2, Dr  Kate  Frieberg2, Dr Sara  Branch2

1School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia
2Griffith Criminology Institute, Brisbane, Australia

The move from primary school to high school (ages 12-13 years old in Australia) is a critical developmental transition that is dense with changes in peer and institutional contexts. The early years of high school see sharp increases in problem behaviour such as delinquency and substance use. Despite the developmental salience of the high-school transition, much remains to be learned about the key risk and protective factors for offending at this time, including how they may be moderated by earlier strengths and vulnerabilities. This paper seeks to identify (1) which individual, school, peer and family factors around the time of the high-school transition are most strongly related to serious youth offending, and (2) whether these factors are more or less important for various subgroups of youth defined by gender, ethnicity, and family adversity. Data are from the ‘Pathways to Prevention’ project, a developmental prevention initiative in a disadvantaged part of Brisbane that aimed to address child risk and protective factors through a range of family supports. This paper uses data from a subsample of 353 adolescents who were in Pathways during preschool and completed a survey at the transition to high school. Classification tree analysis showed that low school attachment was the best predictor of offending. For those with low school attachment, identifying as First Nations was a key predictor of offending. For Anglo-Australians low in school attachment, offending was predicted by being male, or for females, having higher levels of impulsivity and family adversity. The analyses highlight the importance of addressing: (a) school attachment in the early years of primary school before disengagement ‘sets in;’ (b) the complex needs of First Nations families; (c) family adversity broadly; and (d) executive function, particularly impulsivity.


Jacqueline is a lecturer in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University. Her research focuses on individual, family, peer and neighbourhood facilitators of successful development during childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Of particular interest are early-in-life prevention of criminal offending, and the neighbourhood and developmental contexts of substance use in adolescence and young adulthood. Also of special interest are the statistical modelling of complex longitudinal processes, and the innovative use of administrative data in longitudinal and life course research.


Dec 09 2021