Publication of new Catch22 Dawes Unit research on support for families of gang-involved young people

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'Family matters: a snapshot of the support available for families of gang-involved young people in the UK' looks at publicly-funded services within the local authority areas with the highest levels of gang and youth violence.

14 August 2014

Despite the strong policy focus on supporting families as part of efforts to tackle social exclusion, there has been relatively little attention on supporting the families of young people involved or at risk of becoming involved in gangs, in particular wthin the context of the Government’s Troubled Families programme.

The role of the family in gang formation, criminality and gang exit

Previous research conducted for the Catch22 Dawes Unit by London Metropolitan University explored the role of the family in gang formation, criminality and gang exit, and this new publication goes further by providing a snapshot of current practice for gang-involved families within the 33 Ending Gang and Youth Violence areas (a Government programme to tackle gang and youth violence issues within the local authority areas with the highest number of such incidents).

A survey of Troubled Families Coordinators within these 33 areas was conducted, alongside telephone and face-to-face interviews with service managers in family support services. The research focused on:

  • how services are structured and evaluted
  • the types of difficulties that families face
  • how these difficulties become barriers to engaging with services
  • how services can overcome these barriers.

At-risk families face the same issues, whether stemming from gang involvement or other complex needs

It was revealed that families of gang-involved young people are, in general, experiencing the same issues as other at-risk families with complex needs. While there is little direct evidence of effective practice with families of gang-involved young people, there is a substantial evidence base relating to general family support work. The results of this research suggest that family support services should draw upon this when working with gang-involved families.

However, an additional challenge to effective support is the dynamic of denial among families of gang-involved young people, for reasons of self-preservation due to stigma attached to admitting the issues, or due to turning a blind eye to gang activity or in some cases colluding with gang members due to financial difficulties.

There is no standard risk assessment tool to identiy gang-involved families

The research also shows that service providers have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be used to identify gang-involved families – however, there is no standardised risk assessment tool to aid in this process. To overcome denial, providers use a family-focused approach that involves understanding the needs and views of the family; building relationships and creating new opportunities for them.

Based on these findings the Catch22 Dawes Unit has the following recommendations for developing and strengthening work with families of gang-involved young people:

  1. Family support services funded by the Troubled Families programme should use and develop evidence-based practice when working with families of gang-involved young people
  2. Commissioners should trial a specific gang intervention adaptation of Multisystemic Therapy
  3. The Ending Gangs and Youth Violence team should work with those in the sector to develop, test and trial a risk assessment tool
  4. Gang involvement should be explicity detailed in the criteria for inclusion in the Troubled Families programme in order that these families are supported in areas where this is an issue
  5. Family support services working with families affected by gang involvement need to be shapred to overcome serious barriers to engagement stemming from denial and collusion.
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