"We can prevent serious violence and psycho-pathology among the group of children who are at the highest risk," said Kenneth Dodge from the Duke University who was involved in a large study based on over two decades of research.

Beginning in 1991, researchers screened nearly 10,000 five-year-old children for aggressive behaviour problems, identifying those who were at highest risk of growing up to become violent adults.

Nearly 900 children were deemed high risk, and of those, half were randomly assigned to receive intervention under the ‘Fast Track Project’; a multi-faceted programme. The other half were assigned to a control group.

From first through 10th grade, the ‘Fast Track’ children received reading, tutoring and specialized intervention aimed at improving self-control and social-cognitive skills. Parents learned problem-solving skills through home visits and parent training groups.

Nineteen years later, researchers found that Fast Track participants at age 25 had fewer convictions for violent and drug-related crimes, lower rates of serious substance abuse, lower rates of risky sexual behaviour and fewer psychiatric problems than the control group.

"The findings provide the strongest evidence yet that, far from being doomed from an early age, at-risk children can be helped to live productive lives," Dodge added.

The study appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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