Delinquent Behavior by Children Under 10: Normal Development or "Tip of the Icberg"?

Trisha Beuhring, University of Minnesota

Child delinquency is a strong predictor of risk for future chronic, serious and violent offending. Concerns have been raised, however, about when delinquent behavior is a reliable indicator of future risk and when some aspects, such as fighting, are so normative that it is not a good predictor. This study provides a descriptive review of screening data for 163 children between the ages of 4 and 9 who were referred to an intervention program for committing a chargeable offense. The study will describe the range of characteristics associated with each type and severity of referring offense (misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor, and felony offenses that are nonviolent versus violent). Descriptive data for each category of offense will include (1) demographic characteristics; (2) history of delinquent behavior; and (3) risk scores that capture the accumulation and severity of risk factors in multiple domains. These data suggest that only the combination of a chargeable offense during childhood (any type or severity) and a comprehensive risk assessment can reliably distinguish between child delinquents who are likely to escalate and those who probably will not. Given both criteria, even age 5 is not too young. Case studies will be used to illustrate these conclusions.

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Updated 05/20/2006