little criminals

John DiIulio, Jr. is Director of the Partnership for Research on Religion and At-Risk Youth at Public/Private Ventures in Philadelphia
He assisted the Council on Crime in America in drafting its new report, "Saving Children, Preventing Crime."

What the are best predictors of violence in a young child?

Not surprisingly, the best predictors of violence in a very young child are child abuse and neglect. Children who witness violence or are themselves victimized by violence are more likely than otherwise comparable children to commit violent acts. Some research hints that severe neglect is as much of a risk factor as physical abuse.

Is there an emerging consensus on this?

There is, I believe near-universal agreement that child abuse and neglect is a major determinant of youth violence, including among the very young. From work I've done with the groups as diverse as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Disease Control and the National District Attorneys Association, few have doubted the evidence on this point. Unlike many analysts, however, I also believe that positive non-parental adult influences even if they occur relatively late in the abused and neglected child's life, can stop or reverse much of the damage. Even violent young children who enter into a positive, persistent one-on-one relationship with teachers, coaches or clergy, for example, can be helped.

What is research showing on the interplay of social and biological factors in putting a child at risk in becoming violent and antisocial?

The best authority on this question is undoubtedly Professor James Q. Wilson. Clearly, there is a complex interplay of social and biological factors ("biological" may not be the most precise term). With respect to violence by the very young, I happen to be less impressed with non-social factors than many analysts apparently are. I am closer to being a "social determinist," finding good evidence to support the view that children who are shown unconditional love in a safe setting can be helped.

What do we do? What are the public policy aspects of this issue?

The February 1997 report of the Council on Crime in America recommends three strategies--monitoring, mentoring and ministering--for dealing with troubled, at-risk children. These are the best strategies, in my view

Also: Read Dilulio's article " The Four M's of Fighting Crime."

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