To examine the impact of parental criminal offending, both paternal and maternal, on offspring aggression at age 5 years, while also considering key risk factors, including parental mental illness, child’s sex, and socioeconomic disadvantage.
The sample comprised 69,116 children, with linked parental information, from the New South Wales Child Development Study, a population-based multi-agency, multi-generational record linkage study that combines information from a teacher-reported cross-sectional survey of early childhood development at age 5 years (the 2009 Australian Early Development Census; AEDC) with data obtained via administrative records from multiple sources (e.g., health, crime, education, and welfare). Hierarchical logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine the effects of maternal and paternal criminal court appearances (frequency and type of offending), and mental health service contacts, on offspring aggression measured in the AEDC.
Having a parent with a history of offending was significantly associated with high levels of offspring aggression in early childhood. The strength of association was greatest when parents were involved in frequent (≥6 offences: adjusted odds ratio [aOR] range = 1.55–1.73) and violent (aOR range = 1.49–1.63) offending. Both maternal and paternal offending remained significant predictors of offspring aggression after accounting for parental mental illness, and associations were similar in magnitude for maternal and paternal offending histories.
Parental history of severe criminal offending increased the risk of high levels of aggression in offspring during early childhood, highlighting the need for intervention with families during this key developmental period.
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In order to conduct the linkage, parents were identified using the children’s birth registration records.
Identified as having special needs by their teachers based on medical diagnosis if they required special assistance due to chronic medical, physical, or intellectually disabling conditions.
Parental mental illness included the following non-mutually exclusive categories: common (e.g., depression, anxiety; 7.7% of mothers; 2.8% of fathers), severe (e.g. bipolar, schizophrenia; 1.1% of mothers; 1.0% of fathers), substance use (2.6% of mothers; 2.8% of fathers), personality (0.7% of mothers; 0.5% of fathers), other adulthood onset (e.g., mental disorders due to brain damage, dementia; 5.0% of mothers; 2.8% of fathers), and other childhood onset disorders (e.g., conduct, attention deficit disorders; 0.2% of mothers; 0.2% of fathers).
To account for the potential influence of parental absence due to incarceration, analyses were conducted excluding the 1996 children with a parent who had been incarcerated (296 mothers and 1818 fathers). Results were unchanged.
Analyses were also conducted excluding children whose parents had a court appearance for non-criminal regulation offences only (e.g., speeding fines, debts; n = 2639) from the reference group. Results were unchanged.
The prevalence of other mental health problems known to be associated with offending (i.e., antisocial personality and childhood externalizing disorders) was too low to be examined separately.
Model diagnostics indicated the presence of underdispersion in the data. As a result, all analyses were also conducted using quasi-binomial generalized linear models (not presented here). The results did not differ from the logistic models, other than small increases in the standard errors.
Analyses with interaction effects between parental offending and mental illness were examined and were non-significant.
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This research was conducted by UNSW Australia with financial support from the Australian Institute of Criminology (Research Grant CRG 19/14–15); the Australian Research Council (Linkage Project LP110100150, with the New South Wales (NSW) Ministry of Health, NSW Department of Education, and the NSW Department of Family and Community Services representing the Linkage Project Partners); the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC; Project Grant APP1058652); and Australian Rotary Health (Mental Health Research Grant RG104090). MJG was supported by an NHMRC R.D. Wright Biomedical Career Development Fellowship (APP1061875). This research was conducted using population data owned by the Department of Education, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, and NSW Ministry of Health. However the information and views contained in this study do not necessarily, or at all, reflect the views or information held by these Departments. We would like to acknowledge Alessandra Raudino and Enwu Liu for assistance with the preparation of linked data.
Ethical approval was obtained from the NSW Population and Health Services Research Ethics Committee (HREC/11/CIPHS/14), with data custodian approvals granted by the relevant Government Departments, and has, therefore, been performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments that are incorporated into the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council’s National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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Tzoumakis, S., Dean, K., Green, M.J. et al. The impact of parental offending on offspring aggression in early childhood: a population-based record linkage study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 52, 445–455 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-017-1347-3
- Intergenerational transmission
- Externalising behaviour
- Parental mental illness
- Data linkage