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Research Into Young People With Brain Injury Who Offend

UC Research Looking Into Young People With Brain Injury Who May Later Offend

April 22, 2013

Young people who suffer traumatic brain injury can have behavior problems and a University of Canterbury (UC) adjunct professor is investigating whether there is evidence of increased risk of offending behavior among this group of people.

Falls are the most common source of traumatic brain injury (TBI) for children under 15 and fights, sporting injuries and motor vehicle accidents are the most common forms of TBI for those over 15. The UC research is in collaboration with Monash University in Melbourne.

Monash’s Dr Audrey McKinlay, who is a UC adjunct, says the major objective is to investigate the number of young people who, following a TBI in childhood, later suffer mental disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct disorder, mood disorders, substance abuse or anxiety.

``These disorders are associated with an increased risk of offending behaviour, so we also want to find out whether there is evidence of increased offending behaviour among this population,’’ Dr McKinlay says.

``TBI accounts for over three percent of all hospital admissions and costs the Accident Compensation Corporation around $100 million a year for post-acute treatment and rehabilitation. Therefore, the development of interventions aimed at reducing adverse outcomes will have a major cost benefit.

``A recent ACC report said that in Christchurch city alone, 554 children and young people in 2004 were treated at Christchurch Hospital for a TBI.

``Behavioural problems are reported as the most difficult TBI outcome to manage. The resulting unmanaged behaviour commonly leads to expulsion from school, rejection by peers and difficulties with siblings.

``The lack of attention to rehabilitation efforts in the early stages of recovery makes secondary problems such as disruptive behaviour, alcohol and substance abuse and youth offending more likely,” Dr McKinlay says.

TBI affects one in five children by the age of 15. When psychiatric symptoms emerge, the connection with TBI is rarely made. The mechanisms that result in young people with TBI coming into contact with youth justice or mental health services remain unknown.

The UC-Monash research will identify environmental, cultural and individual characteristics of young people with TBI who engage in antisocial behaviour requiring interventions, and will provide an opportunity for prevention.

``Identifying the characteristics of individuals with TBI who become users of mental health and youth justice services will provide a valuable first step towards development of strategies for prevention. Early intervention is likely to reduce high costs, but identification of at risk children is required.

``Our initial research has shown that young people who sustain a traumatic brain injury, even of only a mild severity, are four to six times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders such as ADHD and conduct disorder compared to the general population, especially if the injury occurs in the pre-school years.”

The findings will be reported to the International Brain Injury Association, the Australian Society for the Study of Brain Impairment and at the New Zealand College of Clinical Psychologist conference.


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