Tomorrow we can look forward to the launch of a government review:
expanding existing policies aimed at identifying potential troublemakers in the womb, with home visits for “vulnerable” mothers over a two-year period.
Cabinet Office sources suggested that the project could be extended to include families in which there is domestic violence or a parent has been sent to jail.
Which seems to provide a substantial disincentive to reporting domestic violence, lest your child ends up on myriad ‘future criminal’ databases. The idea that ‘vulnerable’ families:
could be given a period of “intensive home visits” by health visitors
is ludicrous. As we said recently, Amicus reports that the number of Health Visitors in England is at its lowest level in 12 years. What are the likely effects on HV’s genuine child health and protection work of adding ‘crime prevention’ duties to an already decimated workforce?
As for the confident assertion that future offenders can be predicted, we recommend a good look at the research:
1. Using only cases with full information, and using information to age 11 to predict multiple deprivation at age 23, 70.8% of those who go on to experience multiple deprivation at age 23 can be identified at age 11 (the true positive rate). 1.4% of those who do not experience adult deprivation are falsely predicted to do so (the false positive rate).
2. When cases without full information are also used, the true positive rate is 41.1%, with a false positive rate of 5.2%. The true rates are likely to be between these upper and lower bound estimates, but closer to the upper bound.
3. For the 1970 cohort, when only observations with full information are used, those with multiple deprivation in terms of 2 or more of 5 key outcomes at age 30 can be predicted in 87.1% of cases using data to age 10, with a false positive rate of 1.1%. When cases without full information are also used, the true positive rate is 43.7%, with a false positive rate of 8.1%.
4. Using only 5 constructs or pieces of information, assessed up to age 10, we can identify 35% of those who will experience 2 or more of 5 key high cost/harm outcomes at age 30, or, using a slightly different set of 5 constructs, 35% of those who will experience 9 or more from 30 diverse high cost/harm outcomes.
5. Using only 6 constructs assessed in childhood and also allowing for interactions between these constructs, sub-groups can be created that have probabilities that range between 17% and 77% for multiple deprivation in adulthood.
What are the chances of getting ‘full information’ outside of a research study, in the real world where practitioners are run off their feet, and parents quickly learn from others’ experiences that some questions need economical answers if they are to retain any shred of dignity?
No wonder the (eminent) authors of this report to the Home Office said:
any notion that better screening can enable policy makers to identify young children destined to join the 5 per cent of offenders responsible for 50-60 per cent of crime is fanciful. Even if there were no ethical objections to putting “potential delinquent” labels round the necks of young children, there would continue to be statistical barriers.
Research into the continuity of anti-social behaviour shows substantial flows out of – as well as in to – the pool of children who develop chronic conduct problems. This demonstrates the dangers of assuming that anti-social five-year-olds are the criminals or drug abusers of tomorrow, as well as for highlighting the undoubted opportunities that exist for prevention.