October 12, 2011

Nurses 'spot future killers at only three years of age' Ellish O'Regan ROBBERS, rapists and mur- derers of the future can be identified before they reach their third birthday, a world expert on crime and violence told a conference here yester- day.

George Hosking, a clinical criminologist in the UK, who spent nine years researching violence, said research showed that nurses could predict future criminal tendencies 18 years in advance.

"The single most effectiveway to stop crime and violenceis to ensure that infants arereared in a way that fostersgood mental health and wellbe-ing.

"The surest way to do this isto support parents, carers andfamilies," he added.

He was speaking at the firstIrish forum on infant mentalhealth organised by Youngbal-lymun, a prevention and earlyintervention programme basedin the disadvantaged Dublinsuburb of Ballymun. Referringto the research, he said amajor study carried out over20 years in New Zealandshowed health workers couldpredict those who were likelyto become the criminals of thefuture.

"Boy toddlers who wereobserved to be at risk by theirrestless, aggressive or negativebehaviour, were nearly fivetimes more likely at age 21 tohave abused their partners -47pc compared with 9.5pc ofothers," Mr Hosking said.

Conviction"They were also two-and-a-halftimes more likely to have acriminal conviction, with 55pcof their offences beingviolent, compared with 18pc ofothers.

"While fewer of the at-riskgirls were involved in antisocialbehaviour, of those who were,30pc had teenage pregnanciesand 43pc of them were in vio-lent or abusive relationships bythe time they were 21 years,"he told the gathering.

The findings of this Dunedin,New Zealand, study have beenbacked up by others in the USand the UK.

"Knowing what we knownow, it's madness that policy-makers aren't focusing stateinvestment in the first threeyears of life," Mr Hosking said.

"We know that violence is apreventable disease.

"While it is one that is diffi-cult to cure, prevention is real-ly simple.

"Children who are loved andwho receive fair, firm disciplinedo not become violent teenagersor adults.

"Children who are not treat-ed well are more likely tobecome involved in crime, vio-lent behaviour or abuse," headded.

Infants in loveless or abusivehomes will have their emotionshardwired in the first 18 monthsof life.

At birth, a baby's brain has 50trillion synapses, or connec-tions, which are formed by earlyexperiences.

By age three, the number ofsynapses has increased to 1,000trillion.