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Open Access Research article

Child and adolescent psychiatric patients and later criminality

Ulf Engqvist12* and Per-Anders Rydelius3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Women and Child Health, Karolinska Institutet, Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital at Karolinska University Hospital, SE-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden

2 Department of Social Work, Mid Sweden University, SE-831 25 Östersund, Sweden

3 Department of Women and Child Health, Karolinska Institutet, Astrid Lindgren Children's Hospital at Karolinska University Hospital, SE-171 76 Stockholm, Sweden

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:221  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-221

Published: 29 August 2007

Abstract

Background

Sweden has an extensive child and adolescent psychiatric (CAP) research tradition in which longitudinal methods are used to study juvenile delinquency. Up to the 1980s, results from descriptions and follow-ups of cohorts of CAP patients showed that children's behavioural disturbances or disorders and school problems, together with dysfunctional family situations, were the main reasons for families, children, and youth to seek help from CAP units. Such factors were also related to registered criminality and registered alcohol and drug abuse in former CAP patients as adults. This study investigated the risk for patients treated 1975–1990 to be registered as criminals until the end of 2003.

Methods

A regional sample of 1,400 former CAP patients, whose treatment occurred between 1975 and 1990, was followed to 2003, using database-record links to the Register of Persons Convicted of Offences at the National Council for Crime Prevention (NCCP).

Results

Every third CAP patient treated between 1975 and 1990 (every second man and every fifth woman) had entered the Register of Persons Convicted of Offences during the observation period, which is a significantly higher rate than the general population.

Conclusion

Results were compared to published results for CAP patients who were treated between 1953 and 1955 and followed over 20 years. Compared to the group of CAP patients from the 1950s, the results indicate that the risk for boys to enter the register for criminality has doubled and for girls, the risk seems to have increased sevenfold. The reasons for this change are discussed. Although hypothetical and perhaps speculative this higher risk of later criminality may be the result of lack of social control due to (1) rising consumption of alcohol, (2) changes in organisation of child social welfare work, (3) the school system, and (4) CAP methods that were implemented since 1970.