Keep problem kids in school, says U of G prof
Keeping troubled children in school is a challenge, but new research by a University of Guelph professor shows it could be the key to reducing juvenile delinquency. It will not only help their social development, said sociology professor Jane Sprott, but it will also lessen their chances of becoming delinquents.
“It’s important that we don’t simply shift troubled children from schools to the community,” said Sprott. “Instead, we should focus on positive school climates promoting the child’s well-being.”
Since 1998, Sprott has been studying school environments and the connection between schools and behaviour. Her research shows that children with the greatest risk of aggression should stay in the classroom, rather than be forced out of the educational system. She said this will have positive effects that will reflect in the surrounding community.
Sprott followed two adolescent groups (aged 10 to 12 and 13 to 15) using the National Survey of Children and Youth, which gathers records from school-age children nationally until they reach age 25. The youth were divided into high- and low-risk groups, based on sociological information collected by the survey. The information on school, home and self-reported offending helped Sprott determine their likelihood of developing more aggressive behaviour later in life, potentially leading to delinquency.
She found that violent behaviour and offending dropped off in high-risk children when they entered a positive school environment. Even low-risk groups improved with a heavy academic focus, lowering their aggressive behaviour risk.
“The classroom creates a supportive and caring environment that may not be found in the homes of many higher-risk children,” said Sprott. “We need to see this as a resource for controlling childhood aggression earlier.”
Ontario schools invoke a zero-tolerance policy when dealing with delinquency. Sprott hopes her research will inspire the provincial government to reform that policy. She also said dialogue is needed with school administrations and the community as a whole.
This research was sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Human Resources Development Canada.
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