Family support key to crime prevention

Professor Ross Homel.

The long-term effects of family support on crime prevention in disadvantaged Australian communities have been relatively unknown until now.

In an Australian first, using a longitudinal database of almost 5000 children between the ages of 4 and 12, Griffith University researchers have found that holistic family support can have major beneficial effects on socially disadvantaged parents and children.

The database includes information on 4858 children who attended one of the seven participating primary schools in the Pathways to Prevention Project, a crime prevention initiative (2002-2011) between Mission Australia, Education Queensland and Griffith University.

Professor Ross Homel, Griffith University Foundation Professor of Criminology and Criminology said the Pathways Project was designed to make commonly used family support and child services more effective and better respond to the needs of disadvantaged children.

The findings, published by the Australian Institute of Criminology, show that holistic forms of family support can have major beneficial effects on parents and children.

“These effects can be achieved for some families cost-effectively with relatively low-levels of involvement,’’ Professor Homel said.

“The project was successful in reaching out to a total of 1077 families, which included many with a high level of need. Between 25% and 30% of families participated in the service in any given year.”

He said 1467 children (30% of all enrolled children) participated over the decade including: 16% First Nations, 26% Vietnamese, 15% Pacific Islanders, 16% other ethnicities and 27% Anglo-Celtic Australian.

The average number of support services accessed by families was 61 over an average 76 weeks. The main service types include: carer individual support, advocacy and playgroups.

“The most powerful predictor of improved behaviour was parental participation in family support. A small number of contacts appeared to have most beneficial effects – more frequent service contacts were generally not associated with improved classroom behaviour,’’ Professor Homel said.

“The strongest of these effects was found for parents who recorded initially low levels of efficacy who had relatively light involvement with the Pathways Services.

“These findings show that family support should have a more central place in youth crime prevention.”

Following on from Pathways, the researchers are now working on a new Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project, Creating the conditions for Collective Impact: Transforming the Child-Serving System in Disadvantaged Communities.

The project aims to help socially disadvantaged communities foster sustainable improvements in the children’s wellbeing.