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Last Updated: Monday, 16 August, 2004, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Can criminals' children be saved?
Burglar enters a house
Crime is near the top of the political agenda
Home Office minister Hazel Blears has said the children of criminals will be tracked and targeted at a young age for special help to try to break the cycle of crime.

But not all of those who come into contact with the criminal justice system are confident the government can get it right.

Although the government wants to put the emphasis on the help disadvantaged youngsters and children of criminals will get, there are fears that they could be stigmatised.

Susan McVie has spent the last six years researching a major project in Scotland following the paths of 4,000 youngsters in Edinburgh.

The academics have been interviewing children and parents, as well as looking at school records and even criminal records.

Kids who are labelled may actually become offenders
Susan McVie
Barring some private schools, who chose not to take part, and some children withdrawn by parents, the study has followed the teenage years of the entire secondary school first year intake for Edinburgh in 1998.

Between the ages of 12 and 15, 70% of girls and 80% of boys in the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime said they had committed offences.

Ms McVie said: "The majority offend in their teens, despite having perfectly 'respectable' backgrounds.

"There is a link between parents who offend and their children going on to offend."

But the researcher said parents' criminality was often not the deciding factor, with deprivation or poor schooling often good indicators.

"[I support] extra support for marginalised youngsters - these are the type of kids who are more likely to offend.

"But it doesn't have to be in the context of parents who offend.

"Good parenting is less effective amongst those families who live in deprived neighbourhoods."

Negative effect

And Ms McVie's worry is that children who become aware they are being specially targeted or who are stigmatised may react badly.

"Another concern is that there is a mound of evidence to show that labelling youngsters as offenders or as problematic actually has a negative effect.

"Kids who are labelled may actually become offenders, so labelling by the criminal justice system has an impact."

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