Imprint of poor parental relationships linked to high social costs

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There are significant social costs associated with young people who have a poor relationship with their parents, according to a paper published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

The paper, co-authored by Professor Jennifer Beecham from the Care Policy and Evaluation Centre (CPEC) at LSE, concludes that there is a strong case for widely-available parenting classes to improve parent-child relationships and reduce social costs.

The study, led by researchers from the National Academy for Parenting Research at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, involved 174 young people aged followed from age nine to seventeen. Of those, 85 were drawn from schools where they were rated as having moderate antisocial behaviour while 89 were referred by mental health services as having high levels of antisocial behaviour.

Each young person had a detailed in-depth, validated interview to assess the quality of their parental relationships. If they trusted their parent to provide emotional support, they were designated as having a secure attachment, whereas if they dismissed their parent as not there for them or unsupportive, they were designated as having an insecure attachment.

The researchers found young people with insecure attachments to their mothers cost a third more than those with secure attachments, an average difference of £3,500 per year. The cost difference for insecure attachments to fathers was much larger, at £12,700 per year.

The increased social costs were due to more meetings at school, more referrals to social services, and more appointments with NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

Lead KCL researcher Professor Stephen Scott said: ‘Knowing that your parent or caregiver will be there for you in times of emotional need is a core aspect of feeling loved. While it is well known that antisocial young people cost society more as they become adults, we have shown that insecure attachment adds a cost in its own right, independently of the costs of antisocial behaviour.’

Conduct disorders in young people, characterised by persistent antisocial behaviour, affect around 5% of the population and carry a five to ten-fold increased risk in adulthood of violent offending, heavy drug misuse, teenage parenthood, leaving school with no qualifications and reliance on state benefits.

In the UK, the cost in adulthood for typical conduct disorder cases has been estimated at £260,000 per person.

It has been proven that early intervention can prevent disorders in adulthood, and that there is a robust association between children with insecure attachment to their parents and antisocial behaviour. In previous studies, the researchers found that secure attachment in adolescence is forged through parenting practices earlier in childhood.

Professor Scott says: "We have already shown that parenting classes can reduce antisocial behaviour and improve school attainment by helping the caregiving that leads to the development of secure attachments.

"Parenting classes should be offered on a much larger scale, recognising that the quality of parent-child relationship is not just about individual psychological well-being but also has greater social and financial implications."

Behind the article

The cost of love: financial consequences of insecure attachment in antisocial youth by Christian J. Bachmann Jennifer Beecham Thomas G. O'Connor Adam Scott Jackie Briskman Stephen Scott was published by The Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry and is funded by The Healthcare Foundation.