Abstract: High prevalence of chronic middle ear disease has persisted in Australian Aboriginal children, and the related hearing impairment (HI) has been implicated in a range of social outcomes. This study investigated the association between HI in early childhood and youth offending. Background: High prevalence of chronic middle ear disease has persisted in Australian Aboriginal children, and the related hearing impairment (HI) has been implicated in a range of social outcomes. This study investigated the association between HI in early childhood and youth offending. Method: This was a retrospective cohort study of 1533 Aboriginal children (born between 1996 and 2001) living in remote Northern Territory communities. The study used linked individual-level information from health, education, child protection and youth justice services. The outcome variable was a youth being “found guilty of an offence”. The key explanatory variable, hearing impairment, was based on audiometric assessment. Other variables were: child maltreatment notifications, Year 7 school enrolment by mother, Year 7 school attendance and community ‘fixed- effects’. The Cox proportional hazards model was used to estimate the association between HI and youth offending; and the Royston R2 measure to estimate the separate contributions of risk factors to youth offending. Results: The proportion of hearing loss was high in children with records of offence (boys: 55.6%, girls: 36.7%) and those without (boys: 46.1%; girls: 49.0%). In univariate analysis, a higher risk of offending was found among boys with moderate or worse HI (HR: 1.77 [95% CI: 1.05–2.98]) and mild HI (HR: 1.54 [95% CI:1.06–2.23]). This association was attenuated in multivariable analysis (moderate HI, HR: 1.43 [95% CI:0.78–2.62]; mild HI, HR: 1.37 [95% CI: 0.83–2.26]). No evidence for an association was found in girls. HI contributed 3.2% and 6.5% of variation in offending among boys and girls respectively. Factors contributing greater variance included: community ‘fixed-effects’ (boys: 14.6%, girls: 36.5%), child maltreatment notification (boys: 14.2%, girls: 23.9%) and year 7 school attendance (boys: 7.9%; girls 12.1%). Enrolment by mother explained substantial variation for girls (25.4%) but not boys (0.2%). Conclusion: There was evidence, in univariate analysis, for an association between HI and youth offending for boys however this association was not evident after controlling for other factors. Our findings highlight a range of risk factors that underpin the pathway to youth-offending, demonstrating the urgent need for interagency collaboration to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children in the Northern Territory.
He, Vincent Yaofeng, Su, Jiunn-Yih, Guthridge, Steven, Malvaso, Catia, Howard, Damien, Williams, Tamika, Leach, Amanda, 2019, Hearing and justice: The link between hearing impairment in early childhood and youth offending in Aboriginal children living in remote communities of the Northern Territory, Australia, Volume:7, Journal Article, viewed 30 November 2023, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=16476.