Behavioral problems in early childhood are linked to higher levels of crime-related behavior, higher medical expenses, and lost productivity later in life. The corresponding study was published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Conduct problems are experienced by around 5.7% of children and are among the most common mental health challenges faced by children and adolescents. Studies show that if left untreated, these behavioral issues could increase the risk of mental and physical health problems, public service utilization, and violent and criminal behavior later in life. Understanding more about the economic costs of these behaviors could increase support for policy intervention.
In the present study, researchers investigated the link between behavioral problems during early childhood- such as oppositional or antisocial behavior- and outcomes later on in life. To do so, they examined data from 1339 participants from several sites in the US. Data included parent and teacher reports of kindergarten conduct problems, national database records indicating criminal offending, and participant self-reports of government and medical service use.
Ultimately, they found that each standard deviation increase in kindergarten conduct problems was linked to $144, 823 higher costs for women and $144, 140 higher costs for men relating to adolescent and adult criminal and victim costs, and medical services.
"Providing effective, evidence-based programming designed to address behavioral problems early on has the potential to improve students' well-being in the long term," said Dr. Damon Jones, Associate Research Professor at the College of Health and Human Development at the Pennsylvania State University, "This study implies that there could be an additional benefit of reduced need for government services and lower costs related to crime, where conduct problems are reduced."
Dr. Jones added that data from studies such as this could be used by local, state, and national governments to inform budget planning that supports prevention strategies.
"Many studies have demonstrated that investing in young children through effective intervention can lead to economic benefits for people and public services over time," he concluded.