Professional News
Can Antisocial Behaviors Be Prevented?
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 15 page 4-4

A number of factors seem to put children at risk of engaging in antisocial behaviors (see Multiple Factors at Root of Antisocial Behavior). So can antisocial behaviors be prevented by altering these factors? The answer seems to be yes.

Take a program called the Nurse-Family Partnership, developed by David Olds, Ph.D., director of the Prevention Research Center for Family and Child Health at the University of Colorado at Denver. Olds and his colleagues developed the program in the mid-1970s. Its aim was to give first-born children from a disadvantaged background a better start in life. The intervention consisted of nurses who visited the mothers of these children before birth and during the two years after birth.

For example, while the mothers were pregnant, the nurses urged them to reduce their exposure to tobacco and alcohol, which can have adverse effects on brain development and subsequent behavior. Once the mothers gave birth, the nurses guided them on how to provide sensitive, responsive, and competent care for their babies and urged them to plan future pregnancies so that they could devote sufficient time to their babies and become economically self-sufficient. "Having economic stability in households is an important component in creating the right kinds of conditions for children to develop well," Olds said during an interview.

Besides developing the program, Olds and his team conducted a number of studies to test its effectiveness. In one study, they looked to see whether the program could reduce antisocial behaviors in the children whose mothers had participated.

Four hundred women who were awaiting the birth of their first child served as subjects. Eighty-five percent were young, unmarried, and/or from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Half received the Nurse-Family Partnership intervention; the other half served as controls, receiving standard prenatal and well-child care in a clinic. Of the children born to the 400 women, 315 were available for follow-up during the next 15 years.

Olds and his coworkers found that the children of mothers who had received the intervention experienced significantly fewer arrests, convictions, and probation violations than did the children of controls. And as Olds and his group concluded in the October 14, 1998, Journal of the American Medical Association, "This program of prenatal and early childhood home visitation by nurses can reduce reported serious antisocial behavior."

Subsequently Olds and his team created a nonprofit organization, the Nurse-Family Partnership National Service Office, to help communities set up nurse-family partnerships. Now, a decade later, these nurse-family partnerships are operating in 24 states and assisting some 14,000 families annually. In fact, Olds traveled to Sweden in June to receive the 2008 Stockholm Prize in Criminology. The jury, which was composed of criminologists from various countries, praised Olds both for his innovative program and for the impact that it has had on crime reduction.

Currently Olds is working with researchers in Australia, Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands to determine whether the partnership concept can work in their countries as well.

Although there has not been much research besides his group's to explore early-intervention paradigms in preventing antisocial behaviors, Olds said, there has been a substantial amount to determine whether some later interventions might work. In fact, he pointed out, the Institute for Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder lists on its Web site several later-intervention programs that have been rigorously evaluated and that show considerable promise in reducing antisocial behaviors. The Web site is<www.colorado.edu/cspv/blueprints>.▪

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