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Kindergarten conduct: Childhood behavioral problems will cost society later

According to a recent economic analysis led by Pennsylvania State University and Newcastle University, behavioral problems among kindergarten students can cause significant costs to society in terms of crime, associated medical expenses, and lost productivity when they are adults. 

This is the first study to establish a connection between kindergarten students’ behavior and crime-related costs when the children reach adulthood.

Addressing problems early

“Providing effective, evidence-based programming designed to address behavioral problems early on has the potential to improve students’ wellbeing in the long term,” said co-author Damon Jones, an associate research professor of Behavioral Sciences at Penn State.

“This study implies that there could be an additional benefit of reduced need for government services and lower costs related to crime, where conduct problems are reduced.”

How the research was conducted 

The experts analyzed teacher- and parent-reported data on conduct problems among over 1,300 kindergarten students from two multi-site, longitudinal studies conducted in U.S. kindergartens in the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

Then, they used government and administrative data to determine the costs associated with crimes committed by these students through age 28.

What the researchers learned 

The investigation revealed that increased behavioral problems (such as oppositional or antisocial behaviors) in kindergarten students were associated to an average of over $144,000 in costs per student related to crime and associated medical expenses and lost productivity as these children reached adolescence and adulthood. 

According to the researchers, about 42 percent of the students with increased behavioral problems had costs related to crimes including violence, substance use, public order, and property issues, while 45 percent had costs related to government services use, 41 percent to medical services use, and 58 percent to any of these categories. 

Study implications 

“Data from studies such as these can be used by local, state and national governments to inform budget planning that could support prevention where early risk for conduct problems can be determined. Many studies have demonstrated that investing in young children through effective intervention can lead to economic benefits for people and public services over time,” Jones said.

“In the context of the costs captured in our study, these findings suggest that robust efforts to invest in early prevention hold promise for mitigating both long-term economic and societal toll. In sum, by placing a dollar value on early conduct problems, we have provided information that can be used by legislators for evidence-based budgeting.”

“Policymakers should consider placing greater investment in research on childhood conduct problems, as well as clinical prevention initiatives to ensure a strong start for children,” the authors concluded.

The study is published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

More about childhood behavioral problems 

Behavioral problems in children can manifest in various ways, such as acting out, defiance, tantrums, or even withdrawal. These issues can be triggered by a range of factors including family dynamics, school pressures, or medical conditions like ADHD. Understanding the root cause is crucial for effective intervention.

Strategies often involve positive reinforcement, open communication, and sometimes professional help like counseling or medical treatment. It’s important to work collaboratively with teachers, healthcare providers, and other caregivers to address the problem comprehensively.

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