D.M. Fergusson Discusses the Consequences of Conduct Problems in Childhood

Fast Moving Fronts Commentary, March 2011

D.M. Fergusson

Article: Show me the child at seven: the consequences of conduct problems in childhood for psychosocial functioning in adulthood

Authors: Fergusson, DM;John Horwood, L;Ridder, EM
Journal: J CHILD PSYCHOL PSYCHIAT, 46 (8): 837-849, AUG 2005
Addresses: Christchurch Sch Med & Hlth Sci, Christchurch Hlth & Dev Study, POB 4345, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Christchurch Sch Med & Hlth Sci, Christchurch Hlth & Dev Study, Christchurch, New Zealand.

D.M. Fergusson talks with ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about this month's Fast Moving Fronts paper in the field of Psychiatry/Psychology.

SW: Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

It addresses an issue that has been of long-standing public and scientific interest: the extent to which behavioral disorders in childhood are prognostic of longer-term life outcomes including crime, substance use, mental health problems, educational underachievement, and related outcomes.

SW: Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

The paper extends and synthesizes existing knowledge by using data gathered over a 25-year study to explore the linkages between behavioral adjustment in 7-9 year olds and longer-term outcomes. The study is characterized by the availability of extensive data on the cohort and high rates of follow up.

SW: Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman's terms?

"The data base of the study comprises over 50 million characters of data describing the health, wellbeing and development of the cohort from birth to 30 years."

The paper shows that children with early aggressive, antisocial, and related behaviors often continue to have later problems with crime, substance use, mental health, and related outcomes. Early conduct problems are often, but not invariably, indicative of later problems in adolescence and young adulthood.

SW: How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you've encountered along the way?

The research was conducted as part of a far larger longitudinal study of a birth cohort of 1265 children born in Christchurch, New Zealand. This cohort has now been studied on 22 occasions from birth to 30 with the study producing over 350 peer-reviewed papers. The database of the study comprises over 50 million characters of data describing the health, well-being, and development of the cohort from birth to 30 years.

The major challenge faced by the study has been sustaining the funding for the research over a protracted period of time, and we have been very fortunate to have had the continued support of the New Zealand Medical Research Council (MRC) and its successor, the Health Research Council (HRC), for a period of over 30 years. This sustained support from a single funding source has provided the study with the stability it needs to analyze and report on the extensive data collected over the course of the study.

SW: Where do you see your research leading in the future?

We are currently preparing to study the cohort at age 35. Key themes in this research will include: a) the educational, economic, and personal consequences of mental health disorders; b) alcohol and antisocial behaviors; c) cannabis and mental health; d) mental health and pregnancy; e) behavioral genetics of mental disorder; f) Te Ao Maori research; g) Translational research.

SW: Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

Show me the Child at Seven has had important policy implications for the treatment and management of conduct disorders in New Zealand. Specifically, this and related research led to the formation of a Government Advisory Committee (the Advisory Committee on Conduct Problems) to advise Government on evidence based best practice for the prevention, treatment, and management of conduct disorder.

The reports of this Committee have underwritten recent major policy changes that have increased investments in: parent behavior management training, teacher behavior management training, and school-wide behavioral support. In response to these initiatives, the New Zealand Ministry of Social Development is currently conducting an in-depth evaluation of the implementation of the Incredible Years Basic Preschool Parent program. Further policy targeted at adolescents is currently being developed.End

Professor D. M. Fergusson PhD, FRSNZ, FNZPS (hon), FRACP (hon)
Department of Psychological Medicine
University of Otago
Christchurch, New Zealand



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