Problem Children in Elementary School: Can We Make a Difference?

Lara Belliston, Auburn University
Alexander T. Vazsonyi, Auburn University
Daniel J. Flannery, Kent State University
Jeffery Hibbert, Auburn University

Most serious delinquent acts are committed by a relatively small group of chronic offenders. These individuals need to be targeted by prevention and intervention efforts early in life, perhaps during elementary school. However, identifying these children is often difficult as predictors and criterion lack independence. The purpose of the current investigation was to compare the effect of the universal school-based PeaceBuilders youth violence prevention program (Embray et al, 1996) on elementary school children (grades K-5) identified as "problem kids" by official school records (suspensions) versus "nonproblem children." More specifically, the study longitudinal data on teacher rate social competence and aggression were examined. The sample was ethnically diverse (50% Hispanic, 29% Caucasian, 15% Native American, 5% African American and 1% Asian/Pacific Islander) drawn from a metropolitan area in the Southwest. At Time 1, data were collected on N=3,103 children based on teacher reports; however, archival records were only available for N=2,750 students (89%). Approximately 6% (n=174) of the sample has been suspended from school during the study period. About 76% of the identified "problem kids" were male and 22% were female. Preliminary analyses evaluating the impact of PeaceBuilders on social competence and aggression indicated that problem children reported significantly higher levels of initial aggression and lower levels of social competence than nonproblem children; program effects were mixed and appeared more effective for on problem children.

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Updated 05/20/2006