Economist: Improving social care results in less crime

Children and youths who have been taken into social care are more likely to commit crimes later in life. However, improving social care reduces the risk of these individuals engaging in criminal behavior, according to Matthew Lindquist in a new SNS report.

Does Placing Children in Out-of-Home Care Affect Their Future Criminality_ 297.5 KB PDF

In 2021, more than 26,000 children and youths in Sweden spent at least one night in social care. They were mostly placed in foster homes followed by institutional care in group homes (HVB-hem). In the SNS report Does Placing Children in Out-of-Home Care Affect Their Future Criminality? researcher Matthew Lindquist analyzes the results of such interventions.

“Removing children from their families constitutes one of the most significant interventions that society can make in families. This is obviously done after analyzing what is best for the children, but it also requires determining the impact of such interventions,” says Matthew Lindquist, professor of economics.

In the report, he discusses research studies from countries such as Sweden, Canada and the United States. The pattern is the same everywhere: those who have been taken into care are overrepresented in crime statistics. For example, children born in Sweden in 1990 or 1991 who were taken into social care before they turned 20 were 3–10 times more likely to be convicted of crimes between the ages of 20 and 25 compared to children who have never been taken into social care.

“This relationship is clear and troubling; however, this does not mean that social care is harmful. The criminal behavior of these individuals as adults may just as well be a result of their childhood and living conditions. On average, individuals having been taken into care exhibit a lower education level, employment rate and income than others. Furthermore, they also tend to suffer more from health problems,” according to Matthew Lindquist.

He points to important lessons from research on social care. Higher-quality social care seems to result in the individuals being taken into care presenting a lower risk of committing crimes in the future. And failing in school clearly puts individuals at a higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior as adults.

“The costs of crime for society are so high, both socially and economically, that investing in higher quality in social care should really pay off, not least through more so-called reinforced foster homes instead of institutional care. These types of homes have been shown to reduce not only future criminal behavior but also the number of days spent in group homes or juvenile detention centers (SiS-hem),” according to Matthew Lindquist.

He also wants to see stricter monitoring in terms of that children taken into care do well in school and are in good health. In addition, it may be necessary to review the resources available to the Swedish Health and Social Care Inspectorate while the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare’s register may need to be expanded. This, Lindquist argues, ensures good control and follow-up of these interventions.

about the project

The report is part of the SNS research project Crime and Society. It runs from 2022 to 2024 and focuses on how to prevent crime and which measures may be effective in this regard.

about the author

Matthew Lindquist is a professor of economics at the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI) at Stockholm University.