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Children of the millennium

Understanding the course of conduct problems during childhood

Authors: Leslie Morrison Gutman, Heather Joshi, Lorraine Khan and Ingrid Schoon

This report sets out the key findings of a project on children’s behaviour or conduct problems undertaken jointly by University College London Institute of Education and Centre for Mental Health, with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

The focus of the project is on the analysis of pathways or trajectories of conduct problems during childhood using data from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), a multipurpose longitudinal study which is following a large sample of children born in the UK between September 2000 and January 2002.

Conduct disorder, characterised by persistent disobedient, disruptive and antisocial behaviour, is the most common diagnosable mental health condition in childhood, particularly among boys. About 60% of all children with any kind of diagnosable mental health problem have conduct disorder, often in combination with another problem such as hyperactivity/inattention or anxiety.

The overall prevalence of conduct disorder is around 5% among children aged 5-10, rising somewhat during the adolescent years. In addition, a similar number display problems which, while sub-threshold in clinical terms, are sufficiently severe to warrant concern, particularly because of the risk of poor longterm outcomes.

Severe conduct problems are associated with a wide range of adverse long-term outcomes extending into adulthood, including continuing mental health problems, poor performance at school and subsequently in the labour market, substance misuse, involvement in criminal activity, disrupted personal relationships and even a reduction in life expectancy. No other common childhood condition is associated with such far-reaching and pervasive consequences.