Crime prevention starts in early childhood

On February 8, 2012, the Chronicle Herald published an editorial by Dr. John C. LeBlanc and Jim Mustard. Dr. LeBlanc is an associate professor, Dalhousie University, and president, Atlantic Pediatric Society. Jim Mustard is with the Atlantic Network for Early Human Development and is an Inverness County councillor.


"Youth (12-17 years of age) crime is higher in Nova Scotia than the Canadian average: 8,903 per 100,000 people in 2010 compared to a national rate of 6,147 (Statistics Canada). In response, politicians, professionals in the justice sector and other stakeholders have devised various programs for "at-risk youth. The goals have been to connect youth within their schools and communities, address poverty and unemployment, and deal with the easy access to illegal drugs that a port city like Halifax offers.

Research tells us that these intensive programs are costly, don’t reach all who need them, and start too late. It turns out that it’s much easier and less expensive to start in early childhood, a life stage that is rarely mentioned when people talk about crime prevention.

.... Some places — for example, Scandinavian countries and Cuba — have made access to quality early childhood education (ECE) programs a priority for all young children, rich and poor. The results are large drops in school failure, juvenile delinquency and child poverty (

.... So why is this not on the radar of most Nova Scotians? It’s hard for people and politicians to put resources into programs that may not pay off for 10 to 15 years when there are so many pressing immediate needs. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait that long. The payoffs for ensuring all children get a good start can be seen as early as age five, when children enter school ready and able to learn. Research shows that this is a major predictor of eventual school success.

Unfortunately, neither Nova Scotia parents nor professionals have ready access to, or even knowledge about, ECE programs. We do not have universal ECE services, as exist in Quebec for example, and there are long wait lists for support programs that can help parents develop their children’s full potential. Access also depends on where you live since these programs vary from community to community.

Change is on the way. A few months ago, the Nova Scotia government took a major step in the right direction by taking stock of the early childhood services currently in place. There now needs to be an in-depth discussion with people inside and outside of government to convert Nova Scotia’s "patchwork of programs into a unified system in which parents and professionals can find those services that will help children who are not developing to their full potential. One such discussion is the presentation of findings from the Early Years Study 3 by the Honourable Margaret McCain at the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel on Thursday, Feb. 9, from 10-11:30 a.m."

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