Early childhood intervention for conduct problems improves outcomes in adulthood

April 29th, 2015

A long-term, multimodal intervention for children with early-onset conduct problems has been shown to reduce negative outcomes and psychopathology in adulthood, including substance abuse, criminality and antisocial personality disorder.

The multi-centre Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group study was conducted across 55 schools in four US states. The researchers assigned 891 4–6 year olds with conduct problems to either a control group or to a 10-year, multimodal intervention with proven success in shorter studies. Those assigned to the intervention arm received child social skills training, parent training, peer coaching and mentoring, reading tutoring, and school-based training in social and emotional skills. When participants in the current study reached the age of 25, researchers reviewed arrest records and conducted blinded psychiatric interviews of both participants and their peers who knew them.

By the age of 25, 69% of participants in the control arm displayed at least one externalising or internalising psychiatric problem including ADHD, or at least one substance abuse problem, compared with 59% who received the multimodal treatment intervention. Participants in the intervention arm were also less likely to have been convicted of violent or drug-related crimes, or to engage in risky sexual behaviour, and their overall well-being scores were higher than those in the control group. Furthermore, these results were consistent across all schools participating and were not affected by sex or race. However, the intervention did not appear to have a significant effect on anxiety and depression, property crime involvement, or education and employment.

This study demonstrates that it is possible to identify at-risk children and take steps to prevent more serious conduct problems through structured, longer-term interventions. This preventative approach can have a positive effect on a variety of outcomes in a group previously considered to be unreachable and resistant to interventions.

find out more