About the Center
Current Events
Site Map

Early Intervention to Prevent the Development of Antisocial Behavior

Early intervention for children with serious emotional disturbance is the best method for treating antisocial behavior in children and youth (Walker, Colvin, and Ramsey, 1995). Many children, who receive early intervention, do not need intensive services from residential facilities, or other costly treatments later in life.

Damon's Story

During kindergarten, Damon's teacher and his parents reported that he had a difficult time staying on-task and following directions; he also was often aggressive with his peers on the playground. Because of these behaviors, it was decided to implement the First Steps program with him. After just 10 days of the 6-week intervention, Damon's parents and teachers began to see a marked improvement in his behavior. Today, as a 2nd grade student, Damon is focused, on-task, and gets along with his peers. He is at grade level in all areas and enjoys reading. His teacher reports that he is a "pleasure" to have in class.

Successful early intervention programs provide coordinated services at home, at school, and in the community. One such program, First Steps, has reported long-lasting and significant improvements in children's behavior. This program also helps children stay on task and learn. In addition, most children who complete First Steps do not need any further intervention (A. Golly, personal communication, February 21, 1997).

Without early intervention the development of antisocial behaviors follows a predictable pattern that increases in severity as the child grows older. Experts in children's antisocial behavior agree that:

  • While antisocial behavior in children can be identified by age 3 (Walker, Severson, and Feil, 1994) services often do not begin until after age 10 (Duncan, Forness, and Hartsough, 1995); and
  • If interventions do not occur before age 8, the child is likely to develop delinquent behavior and require more intensive and expensive programs later in life.

Early intervention programs, such as First Steps, are far less costly - in terms of time and money - than alternative treatments, including (a) special education while the child is in elementary school, (b) residential facilities for children who are removed from their home and neighborhood school, and (c) incarceration for juvenile delinquents. Thus, early intervention to prevent antisocial behavior is not only effective, but cost efficient (Walker, Kavanagh, Stiller, Golly, Severson, and Feil, 1997).

Cost-Benefit of Early Intervention (*)

Early Intervention $3,000
Special Education $12,500
Residential Facilities $30,000
Incarceration $50,000


* Cost figures from following sources: Early Intervention and Residential Facilities - Walker, Kavanagh, Stiller, Golly, Severson, and Feil, 1997; Special Education - George, 1997; Incarceration - Federal Bureau of Prisons, 1991.

Christenson, S., Sinclair, M., Thurlow, M., & Evelo, D. (1995). Tip the balance: Policies and practices that influence school engagement for youth at high risk for dropping out. ABC Dropout Prevention and Intervention Series. Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

Duncan, B., Forness, S.R., & Hartsough, C. (1995). Students identified as seriously emotionally disturbed in day treatment: Cognitive, psychiatric, and special education characteristics. Behavioral Disorders, 20, 238-252.

Federal Bureau of Prisons. (1991). Washington, DC: Department of Research and Evaluation.

Kazdin, A. (1987). Conduct disorders in childhood adolescents. London: Sage.

M. George, Lane Education Service District, Eugene, OR. (personal communication, February 21, 1997).

Walker, H.M., Colvin, G., & Ramsey, E. (1995). Antisocial behavior in school: Strategies and best practices. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

Walker, H.M., Severson, H.H., & Feil, E.G. (1994). The early screening project: A proven child-find process. Longmont, CO: Sopris West.

Walker, H.M., Kavanagh, K., Stiller, B., Golly, A., Severson, H.H., & Feil, E.G. (1997). First Steps: An early intervention approach for preventing antisocial behavior. Manuscript submitted for publication.


b_orange.gif (60 bytes)

2000 Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice