• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Tuesday 15th February, 2011

Safe schools can help to rescue unsafe lives

Researchers are keen to identify risk factors – reliable indicators as to who is most likely to have a difficult life – or to make other people’s lives difficult – or to feel the weight of both.A well established risk factor for later delinquency is the experience of abuse or neglect in childhood. But plenty of children defy this gloomy expectation: they are maltreated but don’t become delinquent or they become delinquent despite being treated fairly well by their parents. When researchers encounter children who appear resistant to a risk factor, they go looking for protective factors. They ask what is it about these particular children or about their lives that protects them from what appears to be a likely fate? Why do they defy the odds?A team of Canadian researchers, including Claire V. Crooks and David A. Wolfe at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reviewed the possibilities by examining the lives of 1,788 students attending 23 schools in Ontario. The ninth grade students completed questionnaires concerning their home and school lives in the fall and then again between four and six months later.Like others before it, the Ontario study found that children who had been maltreated and lacked nurturing from their parents were particularly likely to become delinquent and violent over time. However, not all who were burdened by those risk factors became delinquent. Attending safe schools (specifically schools perceived as safe by their students) appeared to protect children – even those at high risk – from antisocial behavior. Although it wasn’t clear why students in some schools felt safer than those in others, the study confirms that there are several routes to a better life. Certainly, home life is important: improving parenting can dramatically improve children’s lives. But schools can also influence the life course of children – even those with the odds stacked against them at home. And clarity on this matter would help educators create better school environments.• Summary of “Understanding the Link Between Childhood Maltreatment and Violent Delinquency: What do schools have to add?” by Crooks C V, Scott K L,Wolfe D A, Chiodo D, and Killip S in Child Maltreatment, Vol. 12, No. 3, pp 269-280, August 2007.

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