There is a phenomenon whereby there is a strong association between age and crime. It follows that crime increases through adolescence it then peaks at 17 years old and then decreases as age increases. Therefore, there is a link between young people and crime. Though, the causes of criminality are always complex. There are usually numerous social, environmental and psychological factors which can help influence criminal behaviour.
Why do children commit crime?
Certain circumstances can cause criminal behaviour in children, these are :
• not doing well in school
• truanting from school
• difficult family relationships
• lack of boundaries and parental supervision
• having friends who commit crime
• drug and alcohol misuse
• mental health issues, such as attention deficient and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Social factors can influence criminality. These factors can include things such as peer influence, not having appropriate guidance and/or guardian, difficulties at school or poor socio-economic background. The Nuffield Trust found that childhood experiences of extreme difficulties such as trauma, poverty and school exclusion impacted their ability to stay away from crime during adulthood. That is worrying considering 4.3 million children in the UK are living in poverty. When looking at the causes of criminality within children it is important to not only focus on one factor but the accumulation of difference factors. It is this which can influence a propensity for criminal behaviour.
Psychological factors and mental health disorders
Psychological factors have been seen within criminal behaviour particularly with children and young people. A Government report suggested that children and young people in contact with the youth justice system are more likely to have mental health problems than those who are not . Certain mental health disorders can increase an individual’s capacity to react in certain situations. Particularly Attention Deficient and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been associated with criminal behaviour. ADHD is one of the most predominant mental health problems amongst children and appears to be rapidly growing.
According to the NHS, the symptoms of ADHD can be:
- having a short attention span and being easily distracted
- making careless mistakes – for example, in schoolwork
- appearing forgetful or losing things
- being unable to stick to tasks that are tedious or time-consuming
- excessive physical movement
- excessive talking
- being unable to wait their turn
- acting without thinking
- interrupting conversations
- little or no sense of danger
There are also links to other disorders when a child has ADHD, such as depression and anxiety. Others include oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) which is defined by disruptive and negative behaviour and conduct disorder which involves a tendency towards highly anti-social behaviour. This is not to say that every child that has ADHD will have every symptom or have the associated disorders, however, it is important to bring awareness to this and the impact of mental health on crime.
A problem not being addressed
Mental health support is so important but not enough is being done. 1 in 6 children aged 5 – 16 were identified as having probable mental health problem. In the last few years and particularly with the impact of Covid-19, there has been an increase in mental health issues. Since 2017, nearly 40% of children aged 6 – 16 reporting a deterioration in their mental health. However, the real figure may be unknown as it is difficult to diagnose mental health disorders particularly with children.
The common mental health disorders in children and young people are:
- Eating Disorders
What is being done to address the trend?
It is notoriously difficult to obtain mental health sessions for young people in the current climate, but there are charities and organisations who are working with social services and the police to provide free mental health services for children and young people to help with the growing trend.
Every case is different and every child who needs the support should have access to it to ensure that they do have the best start in life can. Early intervention has been proven to an effective tool in helping to reduce criminality in both childhood and adulthood.