Services urged to act early to deter children from violence and crime

17 Nov 15

Children susceptible to involvement in gangs and violence can be spotted as young as seven and public services should focus on tackling risk factors, research from the Early Intervention Foundation has found.

The charity, which acts as the government What Works Centre on early action schemes, said risk signals included troublesome behaviour, aggression, running away from home and truancy.

Children from families with a history of violence and long-term unemployment, and whose friends are already involved in crime, are also at risk. Low achievement in primary school and hyperactivity were found to be risk signals for both youth violence and gang involvement.

When these factors are identified, the EIF said providing the right support to these children at the earliest opportunity was critical. For this to happen, frontline workers needed to spot signs early and make sure help is provided. The charity called on the police, councils, youth services, schools and the voluntary sector to use these findings to target diminishing resources on providing early support to those children and young people most at risk to prevent them becoming involved in violent youth crime.

Early intervention through school-based or family-focused programmes, such as parent training, family therapy and home visits, was found to be most effective in steering children and young people away from a life of crime and would save money in the long term.

Mentoring schemes were often implemented poorly and do not work unless very carefully monitored, it found, while programmes based solely on deterrence or discipline – such as prison visits or military boot camps – do not work and can be potentially harmful.

“It is vital that local areas use our research to spot these signals of risk and provide the right support at the earliest opportunity so they can pick up the signs and not the pieces,” EIF chief executive Carey Oppenheim said.

“We know that these indicators of risk do not themselves predict gang membership or involvement in violence, but they do suggest increased odds of this happening.

“This is an area where early intervention is so important and there are lots of programmes across the country designed to stop violent behaviour and gang involvement. With public spending expected to continue to fall over the next few years, it is critical that the police, councils, youth services, schools and communities spend money on the things that work and share information, identify risks and prioritise resources on targeting those children most in need.”

Roy Perry, Local Government Association children and young people board chair, said in areas where gang violence is a problem, local councils are working hard with their partners to stop children and young people from becoming involved.

“Investing in prevention at a local level is key. Whether it’s working with families, tackling truancy, or helping parents to overcome long-term unemployment, more councils are sharing information and working alongside schools, the police and charities to support young people at risk.

“This report makes a useful contribution to the evidence being brought together to make sure that we can provide the best support and interventions possible to protect children and young people from being drawn into a life of crime and violence.”

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