Family and parenting interventions in children and adolescents with conduct disorder and delinquency aged 10-17

Conduct disorder and delinquency are significant problems for children and adolescents and their families, with the potential to consume much of the resources of the health, social care and juvenile justice systems. A number of family and parenting interventions have been recommended and are used for these conditions. The aim of this review was to determine if these interventions are effective in the management of conduct disorder and delinquency in children and adolescents, aged 10-17. Current evidence suggests that family and parenting interventions for juvenile delinquents and their families have beneficial effects on reducing time spent in institutions. This has an obvious benefit to the participant and their family and may result in a cost saving for society. These interventions may also reduce rates of later arrest, but at present these results need to be interpreted with caution, because of diversity in the results of studies.

Authors' conclusions: 

The evidence suggests that family and parenting interventions for juvenile delinquents and their families have beneficial effects on reducing time spent in institutions. This has an obvious benefit to the participant and their family and may result in a cost saving for society. These interventions may also reduce rates of subsequent arrest but at present these results need to be interpreted with caution due to the heterogeneity of the results.

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Background: 

Conduct disorder and delinquency are significant problems for children and adolescents and their families, with the potential to consume much of the resources of the health, social care and juvenile justice systems. A number of family and parenting interventions have been recommended and are used for these conditions. The aim of this review was to determine if these interventions are effective in the management of conduct disorder and delinquency in children and adolescents, aged 10-17.

Objectives: 

To determine if family and parenting interventions improve the child/adolescent's behaviour; parenting and parental mental health; family functioning and relations; and have an effect on the long term psychosocial outcomes for the child/adolescent.

Search strategy: 

Randomised controlled trials were identified in September 1999 through searching the Cochrane Controlled Trial Register (CCTR), databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, Sociofile, ERIC, Healthstar), reference lists of articles and contact with authors.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials with a major focus on parenting and/or family functioning were eligible for inclusion in the review. Trials needed to include at least one objective outcome measure (e.g. arrest rates) or have used a measure that had been published in peer review publications and validated for the relevant purpose. Studies were required to have a control group, which could be a no intervention group, a wait list group or a usual intervention group (e.g. probation).

Trials in children and adolescents aged 10 to 17 years with conduct disorder and/or delinquency and their families were considered. Conduct disorder was defined by a standardised psychological assessment (for example, using a child behaviour checklist), or a psychiatric diagnosis. Delinquency was defined by a referral from a juvenile justice or another legal system for a child/adolescent who has committed a serious crime e.g assault and/or offended on at least two occasions.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers independently reviewed all eligible studies for inclusion, assessed study quality (allocation concealment, blinding, follow up, clinically important outcomes) and extracted data. Heterogeneity was assessed using the Chi squared test of heterogeneity along with visual inspection of the data. A significance level less than 0.1 was interpreted as evidence of statistically significant heterogeneity. For data where heterogeneity was found the reviewers looked for an explanation. If studies with heterogeneous results were thought to be comparable the statistical synthesis of the results was done using a random effects model. This model takes into account within-study sampling error and between-studies variation in the assessment of uncertainty and will give wider confidence intervals to the effect size and hence a more conservative result.

Sensitivity analysis was performed to explore the effects of the varying quality of the studies included on the results.

Main results: 

Of the nine hundred and seventy titles initially identified through the search strategy, eight trials met the inclusion criteria. A total of 749 children and their families were randomised to receive a family and parenting intervention or to be in a control group. In seven of these studies the participants were juvenile delinquents and their families and in only one the participants were children/adolescents with conduct disorder who had not yet had contact with the juvenile justice system.

At follow up, family and parenting interventions significantly reduced the time spent by juvenile delinquents in institutions (WMD 51.34 days, 95%CI 72.52 to 30.16). There was also a significant reduction in the risk of a juvenile delinquent being re arrested (RR 0.66, 95%CI 0.44 to 0.98) and in their rate of subsequent arrests at 1-3 years (SMD -0.56, 95% CI -1.100 to - 0.03). For both of these outcomes there was substantial heterogeneity in the results suggesting a need for caution in interpretation. At present there is insufficient evidence that family and parenting interventions reduce the risk of being incarcerated (RR=0.50, 95% CI 0.20 to 1.21). No significant difference was found for psychosocial outcomes such as family functioning, and child/adolescent behaviour.

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