Creating Safer Communities

To reduce crime, we must support families and provide opportunities for children
The things that make communities safer from crime lie beyond the criminal justice system: they lie beyond the jurisdiction of law enforcement, courts, corrections. The criminal justice system can react to crime and can provide crime control; it cannot prevent it from happening in the first place.

True crime prevention must focus on the root causes of crime and victimization and be committed to a social development approach to addressing crime and safety. 

Both research and experience into antisocial behaviour indicate that the roots of crime and victimization lie, in large part, within the social and economic environment of the child.

Put in its simplest terms, to reduce crime and victimization, we must support families and provide opportunities for children from the very beginning of their lives. 

The literature on crime prevention is very rich and convincing in the approach that must be taken if we are to be truly committed to reducing crime and making our communities safer.

Crime prevention through social development initiatives attempt to build upon what we know and believe about the social and economic factors that are most closely related to crime. Social development programs hold the most promise of effectively addressing those factors that are strongly correlated with persistent delinquency and criminal activities among adults, namely:

  • family violence
  • lack of supervision from parents or caring adults; parental rejection, and lack of parent-child involvement
  • difficulties in school
  • neighbourhoods characterized by poor housing, lack of recreational, health and educational facilities
  • the disintegration of social supports
  • peer pressure
  • youth unemployment and blocked opportunities
  • poverty and inequality

There is a growing consensus that the following components are key to developing an effective crime prevention strategy:

Early education

Possibly the most well-known example of early childhood programs cited in the literature is the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project, developed and implemented in Ypsilanti, Michigan, by Drs. David Weikhart and Lawrence Schweinhart in 1962. This variation of the Head Start program was designed to study the long-term effects of participation versus non-participation of three- and four-year old, disadvantaged children and their families in a quality preschool program.

These children have been studied, along with their families, throughout their childhood and into their adult years, the latest review being at age 27. 

The findings consistently show that early education provided by skilled workers develops a sense of responsibility and initiative. The children involved in this program have been five times less likely than those who did not take part, to be involved in criminal behaviour. They are more likely to finish high school; and less likely to be dependent on social assistance.

In a seminar sponsored by the National Crime Prevention Council in Ottawa (September, 1996), Dr. Weikart, in speaking of the Perry Preschool Project, stressed that stimulating creativity, responsibility and a feeling of being in charge is essential in early education. Other approaches that use less skilled staff will not necessarily have this dramatic effect on a child’s future well-being. His research further shows that there is a huge increase in brain energy from ages three to ten. This is a crucial time for learning and it is the time when children and families most need the help and support of a quality early intervention program.

Preparing and supporting parents

The need to prepare and support parents throughout every developmental phase of their child’s life is well established. 

The prenatal period 
In the prenatal phase, the health and well-being of the unborn child is affected by the experiences of the expectant parent(s), the ability of the parent(s) to meet the needs of the developing baby, and the social and economic situation of the parent(s).

Optimal development in the prenatal period is greatly promoted when expectant mothers receive adequate nutrition; abstain from alcohol, drugs and smoking; and live free from abuse. Healthier babies ensure healthier children who in turn have increased opportunities for success in school. School success is a significant protective factor in pro-social development.

What do parents need during this pre-natal period? 
They need opportunities to increase their awareness and understanding of the importance of pre-natal care; they need to enhance their ability to meet the needs of their baby; they need to be encouraged to be equal partners in parenting. This can be done through community-based support programs for parents; for example, home visiting, fathers’ groups, pre-natal classes, cooking classes for expectant parents; by establishing outreach to high risk parents, such as mentoring with an experienced parent.

At birth

The birth of a child presents challenges to all parents. Bonding between parent and child is affected by the maturity levels of the parents; their understanding of child development and the needs of babies; the parents’ degree of isolation from social support; and their socio-economic environment. Often referred to as the “invisible years”, the first three years of a child’s life may involve little or no contact with individuals and systems outside of the family.

What is needed during these early years following the birth of a child?
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, the most effective programs take services to the family. Initiatives that include a home visiting component have proven to be successful in decreasing isolation and improving conditions and outcomes for children. According to the needs of the family, support is intensified and continued.

Home visiting programs are proving to be successful in decreasing isolation; providing education regarding child development and understanding the needs of babies; providing practical supports as needed and in contributing to the early identification of problems. Home visiting programs have shown significant reductions in child abuse and parent/child attachment failures (Fuddy, 1992; Landy et al., 1993).

As well, community-based supports are needed to complement home visiting programs. Some examples of successful community-based programs are family drop-in centres; peer support initiatives and mentoring.

The toddler/preschool years

Anger and frustration are experiences common to all children and adults. These emotions are not “good” or “bad”, Learning to have their feelings acknowledged while at the same time learning non-aggressive ways to express them is one of the challenges of this period of development. Children who witness violence in their homes and communities learn that threats and intimidation seem to be the way to resolve conflicts. They learn about abuse of power and control within relationships. Add to this violence in the media and children can become further desensitized to violence.

What is needed during these years?
Quality child care and education benefits the cognitive and social development of all children. For children experiencing accumulated risks, early child care and education which involves both the child and the parents can serve as a strong protective factor. 

Programs should also be available that provide more intensive interventions for children and parents. To help children “unlearn”aggressive behaviours and develop respectful and caring ways of relating, child care providers must be provided with adequate resources.

Reducing inequality, and in particular, child poverty

There is general agreement that reducing inequality is a factor in reducing crime. Reducing child poverty stands out as a significant factor in reducing crime internationally. The harmful effects of poverty in childhood often linger long into adulthood. It cannot be concluded, however, that “poverty causes crime”.

The evolution of a connection between actual criminal behaviour and an individual’s life experiences and social and economic circumstances is far too complex and unpredictable to be attributed to cause and effect. Poverty [for example] does not cause crime–if it did, then it would be women, not men, making up 98% of the prison population in Canada. If poverty caused crime, white collar crime such as embezzlement or computer fraud and environmental crimes by industry would be non-existent (John Howard Society of Alberta, 1995a, p. 36).

The three components that I have highlighted–early education, parent education and support, and reducing inequality and in particular, child poverty–are especially focused on the early years and emphasize the social imperative to “begin well at the beginning”. The same emphasis needs to be there for the transitions that youth face in their lives.

What I have tried to emphasize is that there is a solid body of knowledge and evidence about what works well. What remains is to do the things that will make a difference.

Carol is the former executive director of the BC Council for
Families and past president of the BC Coalition for Safer Communities.
This article first appeared as “Preventing Crime by Investing in Families” in Family Connections (Winter, 1998), published by the BC Council for Families

PURPLE Program

PURPLE Program and Its Research

The Period of PURPLE Crying® provides educational information about the properties of normal infant crying that are uniformly frustrating to caregivers, and appropriate action steps that caregivers need to know. Inconsolable infant crying is the number one trigger that precedes a shaking event.

The program is presented in two components that reinforce each other: (1) an 11-page booklet (“Did you know your infant would cry like this?”) and (2) a 10-minute DVD.

The letters in the word PURPLE describe the properties of normal infant crying that are frustrating:

P for Peak of Crying — Crying peaks at around 2 months, then decreases at around 3 to 5 months;
U for Unexpected — Crying comes and goes unexpectedly, for no apparent reason;
R for Resists Soothing — Crying continues despite all soothing efforts by caregivers;
P for Pain-like Face — Infants look like they are in pain, even when they are not;
L for Long Lasting — Crying can last as much as 5 hours a day, or more;
E for Evening — Crying occurs more in the late afternoon and evening.

The behavioural component — three action steps — guides caregivers on how to respond to crying in order to reduce crying as much as possible and to prevent shaking and abuse. These action steps are:

1. Carry, comfort, walk and talk with the infant. This encourages caregivers to increase contact with their infant, reduce some of the fussing and attend to their infant’s needs.

2. If the crying is too frustrating, it is okay to walk away. The infant may be put in a safe place so that the caregiver can take a few minutes to calm down and then go back and check on the infant again.

3. Never shake or hurt an infant.

The educational information and action steps are brief, memorable and easy to transmit.

Research Completed. From 2003-2007, research was conducted to test the Period of PURPLE Crying program through randomized controlled trials in Vancouver, British Columbia and Seattle, Washington. The hypothesis of the research was that the intervention materials could change parents’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviours about early infant crying, especially inconsolable crying and shaken baby syndrome. In Vancouver, BC the materials were delivered via public health nurse home visits and in Seattle, WA the materials were delivered via maternity wards, pediatricians’ offices and prenatal classes. The participants were randomly assigned to either an intervention arm where they received the Period of PURPLE Crying materials (a 10-minute DVD and 11-page booklet) or to a control arm where they received comparable information about general infant safety. Over 4,400 parents participated in the studies. Additionally, 25 parent focus groups were conducted to develop the materials.

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Trial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal

The following article describing the randomized controlled trial of the Period of PURPLE Crying materials in Vancouver, B.C., Canada has been published in the March 2009 edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Article Title: Do educational materials change knowledge and behaviors regarding crying and shaken baby syndrome in mothers of newborns when delivered by public health home visitor nurses? A randomized controlled trial.

Authors and Investigators: Ronald G. Barr, MDCM, FRCPC, Marilyn Barr, BIS, SSW, Takeo Fujiwara, MD, PhD, MPH, Jocelyn Conway, BA, Nicole Catherine, M. Sc., Rollin Brant, PhD.

Click here to read the full article on the CMAJ website.

Seattle, Washington, USA Trial in Pediatrics

The following article describing the randomized controlled trial of the Period of PURPLE Crying materials in Seattle, WA has been published in the March 2009 issue of Pediatrics.

Article Title: Effectiveness of educational materials designed to change knowledge and behaviors regarding crying and shaken baby syndrome in mothers of newborn infants: a randomized controlled trial.

Authors and Investigators: Barr RG, Rivara FP, Barr M, Cummings P, Taylor J, Lengua LJ, Meredith-Benitz E.

Retracted autism study an ‘elaborate fraud,’ British journal finds

(CNN) — A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an “elaborate fraud” that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.

“It’s one thing to have a bad study, a study full of error, and for the authors then to admit that they made errors,” Fiona Godlee, BMJ’s editor-in-chief, told CNN. “But in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data.”

Britain stripped Wakefield of his medical license in May. “Meanwhile, the damage to public health continues, fueled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals and the medical profession,” BMJ states in an editorial accompanying the work.

Speaking to CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” Wakefield said his work has been “grossly distorted” and that he was the target of “a ruthless, pragmatic attempt to crush any attempt to investigate valid vaccine safety concerns.”

The now-discredited paper panicked many parents and led to a sharp drop in the number of children getting the vaccine that prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination rates dropped sharply in Britain after its publication, falling as low as 80% by 2004. Measles cases have gone up sharply in the ensuing years.

In the United States, more cases of measles were reported in 2008 than in any other year since 1997, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 90% of those infected had not been vaccinated or their vaccination status was unknown, the CDC reported.

“But perhaps as important as the scare’s effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it,” the BMJ editorial states.

Wakefield has been unable to reproduce his results in the face of criticism, and other researchers have been unable to match them. Most of his co-authors withdrew their names from the study in 2004 after learning he had had been paid by a law firm that intended to sue vaccine manufacturers — a serious conflict of interest he failed to disclose. After years on controversy, the Lancet, the prestigious journal that originally published the research, retracted Wakefield’s paper last February.

The series of articles launched Wednesday are investigative journalism, not results of a clinical study. The writer, Brian Deer, said Wakefield “chiseled” the data before him, “falsifying medical histories of children and essentially concocting a picture, which was the picture he was contracted to find by lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers and to create a vaccine scare.”

According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers. Godlee said the study shows that of the 12 cases Wakefield examined in his paper, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism.

“It’s always hard to explain fraud and where it affects people to lie in science,” Godlee said. “But it does seem a financial motive was underlying this, both in terms of payments by lawyers and through legal aid grants that he received but also through financial schemes that he hoped would benefit him through diagnostic and other tests for autism and MMR-related issues.”

But Wakefield told CNN that claims of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism “came from the parents, not me,” and that his paper had “nothing to do with the litigation.”

Read autism coverage on “The Chart” blog.

“These children were seen on the basis of their clinical symptoms, for their clinical need, and they were seen by expert clinicians and their disease diagnosed by them, not by me,” he said.

Wakefield dismissed Deer as “a hit man who has been brought into take me down” by pharmaceutical interests. Deer has signed a disclosure form stating that he has no financial interest in the business.

Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, said the reporting “represents Wakefield as a person where the ends justified the means.” But he said the latest news may have little effect on those families who still blame vaccines for their children’s conditions.

“Unfortunately, his core group of supporters is not going to let the facts dissuade their beliefs that MMR causes autism,” Wiznitzer said. “They need to be open-minded and examine the information as everybody else.”

Wakefield’s defenders include David Kirby, a journalist who has written extensively on autism. He told CNN that Wakefield not only has denied falsifying data, he has said he had no way to do so.

“I have known him for a number of years. He does not strike me as a charlatan or a liar,” Kirby said. If the BMJ allegations are true, then Wakefield “did a terrible thing” — but he added, “I personally find it hard to believe that he did that.”


Article courtesy the CNN Wire Staff

Canada Learning Bonds: Information for Educations

According to a report recently released by the Maytree Foundation, almost 900,000 kids in low-income families are missing out on free education grants — in part because community organizations aren’t getting the information out to parents. Six years after the launch of the Canada Learning Bond, only 212,000 children, or 19 per cent of those eligible, have taken advantage of the program.

The report, called More than Money: Mining the human and financial potential of Canada’s education savings program for low-income families identifies several barriers that low-income families face in accessing Canada Learning Bonds — an RESP program in which the federal government will contribute up to $2000 for low-income children. The key barrier, the researchers found, was that many front-line community service providers were unaware or misinformed about the program, and not able to give families accurate information about it.

The report’s authors discovered that although “community service providers, schools to settlement organizations, are an important and trusted part of families’ networks, and, especially for newcomers, a primary source of information on government and financial programs” they lacked essential information about RESP programs. The researchers also found that many low-income families placed a high value on education and would be likely to take advantage of the program if aware of it.

Among the report’s recommendations:

  1. Service providers, including hospitals, daycares, schools, benefits administrators, and settlement workers, should inform themselves about basic RESP facts, including where to find unbiased product information, in order to better act as an information resource for families.
  2. Service providers should inform themselves about the Canada Learning Bond and encourage low-income families to secure it for their eligible children.
  3. Find out more about RESPS and Canada Learning Bonds at: (English and French) and (information in 14 languages, including Cantonese, Punjabi, Spanish, Farsi).

Article courtesy Glenn Hope
Executive Director, BC Council for Families