Getting the straight goods on kids and crime

Over-represented in the criminal justice system are kids who are non-high school graduates.

Recently, the Early Years Committee hosted a presentation on the economics of Kids and Crime. Dave Park, noted Economist, provides a convincing argument for early intervention. Overall, the earlier the investment in a child’s life, the greater the economic and social return. For every dollar spent on a pre-school child the benefit is three times that of a dollar spent on a school-aged child (and eight times that of Adult programs).

In Canada the rate of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (caused by mother’s drinking alcohol while pregnant) is about one birth in one hundred. Estimates for the cost of this entirely preventable disease per person impacted is over 20,000 dollars every year (about 5.3 billion dollars in Canada annually). This total does not include the cost of involvement with the criminal justice system. Every dollar that goes towards preventing FASD has a profound financial and individual positive return.

Over-represented in the criminal justice system are kids who are non-high school graduates. How does a community improve school readiness and success? One American study on a high quality pre-school for low-income 3 and 4 year olds had a financial return to society of over 16 dollars for every dollar invested. Specific populations over-represented in the criminal justice system includes survivors of trauma, kids who were in government care, aboriginal youth, and those with learning disabilities. Parent education and support programs have been demonstrated to increase the well-being and success of children and youth. Early testing and intervention for students with learning disabilities is another way to improve the school trajectory of students. Programs to increase emotional regulation, healing from trauma, communication skill-building, academic supports and of course- helping struggling families meet basic nutrition and housing needs have an appreciable economic benefit.

So how does this impact you, dear reader? The greater the well-being of each of our fellow Canadians the better off we all are. If we are able to increase the cognitive skills in our school-aged children there is a commensurate increase in Gross Domestic Product. The economic growth would more than pay for the programs and resources needed to help our at-risk kids and youth. Not only do government and community service organizations benefit, but also every tax-payer and citizen with a heart (or who would prefer not to be a victim of crime).

The economic benefits are clear, but more important are the individual and social benefits. The potential of individual benefit is mind-boggling and by reducing the number of kids involved in criminal activity the fewer of us will be impacted by crime.

The entire (almost 100 page) report can be accessed at www.boardoftrade.com/files/PDF/Policy/2010/EconomicAspectsofKidsNCrime13sept10.pdf and makes for compelling and helpful reading. The next time you hear someone complaining about kids these days- direct them to this report and suggest they find a way to make a positive difference in the life of a struggling child or youth.

Marie Amos, MA, RCC, is a Mental Health Therapist with Child and Youth Mental Health of MCFD, Chilliwack.

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