In Brief

Tests for three-year-olds 'can predict future criminals'

Toddlers with low cognitive test scores more likely to end up in jail, hospital or on benefits, say researchers

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A simple test at the age of three can predict a child's future chance of success in life, claims a new report.

Researchers from Kings College London and Duke University in North Carolina followed more than 1,000 children from pre-school to the age of 38 to see if it was possible to forecast who would lead troubled lives.

They found a fifth of the group were responsible for about 80 per cent of the criminal convictions, three-quarters of the drug prescriptions, two-thirds of the benefit payments and more than a half of the nights in hospital.

"They also discovered that the outcome could have been predicted decades earlier, simply by looking at which children attained the lowest test scores aged three," says the Daily Telegraph.

Researchers concluded that low cognitive test scores for skills such as language indicated less developed brains, possibly caused by too little stimulation in early life, leading to a greater chance those children would become criminals, dependent on the state or chronically ill unless they were given support later on.

Professor Terrie Moffitt, who co-authored the study, said society should rethink its view of these people, who are often condemned as "losers" and "dropouts", and offer more support.

She said: "Looking at health examinations really changed the whole picture. It gives you a feeling of compassion for these people as opposed to a feeling of blame."

Being able to predict which children will struggle represented "an opportunity to intervene in their lives very early to attempt to change their trajectories, for everyone's benefit and could bring big returns on investment for government", she added.

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