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Parental criminal offending is an established risk factor for offending among offspring, but little evidence is available indicating the impact of offending on early childhood functioning. We used data from a large Australian population cohort to determine associations between exposure to parental offending and a range of developmental outcomes at age 5 years.
Multi-generation data in 66 477 children and their parents from the New South Wales Child Development Study were combined using data linkage. Logistic and multinomial regressions tested associations between any and violent offending histories of parents (fathers, mothers, or both parents) obtained from official records, and multiple measures of early childhood developmental functioning (social, emotional–behavioural, cognitive, communication and physical domains) obtained from the teacher-reported 2009 Australian Early Development Census.
Parental offending conferred significantly increased risk of vulnerability on all domains, particularly the cognitive domain. Greater risk magnitudes were observed for offending by both parents and by mothers than by fathers, and for violent than for any offending. For all parental offending exposures, vulnerability on multiple domains (where medium to large effects were observed) was more likely than on a single domain (small to medium effects). Relationships remained significant and of comparable magnitude following adjustment for sociodemographic covariates.
The effect of parental offending on early childhood developmental outcomes is pervasive, with the strongest effects on functioning apparent when both parents engage in violent offending. Supporting affected families in early childhood might mitigate both early developmental vulnerability and the propensity for later delinquency among these offspring.
Childhood maltreatment and a family history of a schizophrenia spectrum disorder (SSD) are each associated with social-emotional dysfunction in childhood. Both are also strong risk factors for adult SSDs, and social-emotional dysfunction in childhood may be an antecedent of these disorders. We used data from a large Australian population cohort to determine the independent and moderating effects of maltreatment and parental SSDs on early childhood social-emotional functioning.
The New South Wales Child Development Study combines intergenerational multi-agency data using record linkage methods. Multiple measures of social-emotional functioning (social competency, prosocial/helping behaviour, anxious/fearful behaviour; aggressive behaviour, and hyperactivity/inattention) on 69 116 kindergarten children (age ~5 years) were linked with government records of child maltreatment and parental presentations to health services for SSD. Multivariable analyses investigated the association between maltreatment and social-emotional functioning, adjusting for demographic variables and parental SSD history, in the population sample and in sub-cohorts exposed and not exposed to parental SSD history. We also examined the association of parental SSD history and social-emotional functioning, adjusting for demographic variables and maltreatment.
Medium-sized associations were identified between maltreatment and poor social competency, aggressive behaviour and hyperactivity/inattention; small associations were revealed between maltreatment and poor prosocial/helping and anxious/fearful behaviours. These associations did not differ greatly when adjusted for parental SSD, and were greater in magnitude among children with no history of parental SSD. Small associations between parental SSD and poor social-emotional functioning remained after adjusting for demographic variables and maltreatment.
Childhood maltreatment and history of parental SSD are associated independently with poor early childhood social-emotional functioning, with the impact of exposure to maltreatment on social-emotional functioning in early childhood of greater magnitude than that observed for parental SSDs. The impact of maltreatment was reduced in the context of parental SSDs. The influence of parental SSDs on later outcomes of maltreated children may become more apparent during adolescence and young adulthood when overt symptoms of SSD are likely to emerge. Early intervention to strengthen childhood social-emotional functioning might mitigate the impact of maltreatment, and potentially also avert future psychopathology.
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