Understanding childhood adversity, resilience and crime

Summary of evidence on links between childhood adversity and criminality in adulthood.

3 Why are some children more resilient than others?

Not all people who experience adverse or traumatic childhoods become victims and/or perpetrators of crime. Understanding why some children do well despite early adverse experiences is crucial. Identifying which buffers, or ‘protective factors’, can mediate the effects of childhood adversity and trauma can inform policy and practice to help more children reach their full potential and reduce crime and victimisation.

Protective factors against offending.

Low Levels Of Poverty & Social Deprivation

  • Live in safe neighbourhoods with opportunities for positive activities
  • Low neighbourhood economic deprivation
  • Higher family socioeconomic circumstances

Behaviour & Coping Mechanisms

  • Low hyperactivity & impulsivity
  • Pro-social behaviour
  • Good social skills

Positive Attitudes & Self-Esteem

  • Positive / hopeful about the future
  • Good self-esteem
  • Pro-social attitudes
  • Positive school attitude
  • Religion

Education / Intelligence

  • Resilient young people tend to be more intelligent & flexible
  • Higher level of school attainment

Positive Peers & Neighbourhood Connections

  • Connections with pro-social peers
  • Involvement in positive organisations, activities, sport
  • Low social isolation

Trusted Adult & Effective Parenting

  • Strong attachment with parent/carer
  • ‘Always available adult’
  • Stable family structure
  • Parental supervision
  • Parental interest in education
  • Parental style/discipline (non-harsh)

Research is limited in some areas. There is a lack of ACEs population studies which examine resilience in the context of offending and/or victimisation. Criminological research on resilience tends to focus on youth offending. That being said, resilience factors identified in ACEs research (in relation to mental health) and criminological research are remarkably similar. For example, social support is consistently identified as a protective factor for mental health, offending and victimisation.

The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is “at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult”
(Harvard University Center on the Developing Child).

Research suggests that resilience is built at an individual, family and community level. Policy responses should target all three domains to be most effective.

Points for Reflection

  • One of the criticisms of trauma-informed care is an over-emphasis on risks. It is argued that ACE-informed practice (and research) could be enhanced by identifying protective or strength-based factors in people’s lives.
  • Some protective factors fall out with the reach of the justice system. Policy responses will therefore need to be cross-government.


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