Study: child abuse and neglect associated with later crime

Posted: Tuesday, June 27, 2000

SEATTLE (AP) -- Children who suffer abuse are much more likely to be arrested later in life than those who do not, according to a state study.

The federally funded study of 877 Washington state children also found that those who are neglected early in life are likely to be arrested at the same rates as those abused.

''The notion that neglect begets violence is new for many people,'' said Vickie Wallen, the state's ombudsman for families and children. ''It's an important finding.''

The $285,719 study was paid for by the government's National Institute of Justice and conducted by the Children's Administration's Office of Research in the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Researchers found that children suffering childhood abuse or neglect were arrested 4.8 times more often for juvenile crimes and twice as often as adults compared to those with no record of mistreatment.

The study examined arrest records of 877 children younger than 11 years old in the Puget Sound area who were ordered by a court into the state's care because of abuse or neglect between 1980 and 1985.

Those results were compared with the arrest rates of a group of 877 children of the same age, gender, ethnicity and income level who lived in similar neighborhoods but had never been in state care.

Arrest records were compared in December 1998, when the subjects were between 19 and 30 years old.

Wallen said the study shows more should be done for neglected children, who account for about half of the 11,000 children in state foster care.

''The child protection system does not effectively respond to chronic neglect,'' she said. ''This report is the latest reason why this needs to be a top priority.''

Neglect was defined as ongoing, serious deprivation of a child's basic physical needs, including abandonment, inadequate nutrition or a lack of supervision.

The study also analyzed the relationship between the type of abuse or neglect suffered by children and their likelihood of being arrested for violent crimes in adulthood, including rape, robbery and homicide.

Researchers found that about 30 percent of the troubled group were arrested for violent crimes as juveniles or young adults, regardless of whether they were listed as having been abused or neglected.

''We are often reluctant to intervene in these families, for privacy reasons and other reasons. ''But these kids are at an increased risk, and if we wait, their problems will multiply,'' said Cathy Spatz Widom of the New Jersey Medical School in Newark, who co-authored the new study with Diana English, research director for the Children's Administration of DSHS.

''It would be more effective social policy to prevent the abuse and neglect by intervening early than to try to remediate later,'' English said.

Gender was a factor in arrest rates. Abused or neglected boys were five times more likely to be arrested as juveniles as those not abused, while abused or neglected girls were arrested four times more often.

But abused and neglected girls were seven times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes, while abused boys were arrested twice as often as those who were not abused.

The study should help convince the Legislature to approve more programs aimed at early intervention in troubled families, said Rep. Kip Tokuda, D-Seattle, and co-chairman of the House Standing Committee on Children and Families.

''Prevention is much cheaper than the alternative,'' he said.

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