Preventing Youth Crime Partnership Event: Character & Potential Interventions
08 March 2017
Posted by: Ambition
On Monday 6 March, over 50 colleagues participated in lively discussions at our jointly organised event hosted at the Home Office, in partnership with the University of Exeter. We reviewed and explored research on character, its effects on crime propensity, how this impacts on current practice and potential developments for future practice.
The mixture of academic input and the experience of practitioners allowed for an informed debate about how we support more effective collaboration, not only within the youth sector but across government departments and priorities, and how we can ensure effective practice is adequately resourced and recognised.
Nature versus nurture
Advancements in our understanding of personal character traits and links to offending behaviour and neuro science mean that we now have more opportunities to identify those people at greater risk of getting involved in crime and intervene where we can. The nature versus nurture debate has been prevalent in discussions, for example, are people born with a propensity for criminal behaviour or is the environment to which they are exposed the biggest influencing factor? This argument is pertinent to the work of our members and could help inform policy and practice.
In Social Disadvantage and Crime: A Criminological Puzzle, Wikström and Treiber explore the ‘paradox that most persistent offenders come from disadvantaged backgrounds, but most people from disadvantaged backgrounds do not become persistent offenders.’ The statistical relationship between social disadvantage and persistent offenders has historically influenced policy and practice, with the rationale that if we lift people out of poverty there will be a decrease in persistent criminal activity. However, Wikström and Treiber maintain this argument is ‘poorly specified’ and that we need to better understand why and how socially disadvantaged young people are induced into criminal activity.
By measuring an individual’s propensity for criminal activity, their exposure to opportunity for criminal activity and their social environment, Wikström and Treiber found that propensity and exposure to opportunity was more of a predictor for persistent offending than social disadvantage. This information provides us with more consistent predictors for criminal activity for policy and practice such as; the environment in which young people are exposed, the influence of significant others in a young person’s life and opportunity, rather than social disadvantage as a predictor in itself.
The findings in the article and subsequent discussions at this event will not surprise practitioners working with young people; including that those from disadvantaged backgrounds statistically spend significantly less time participating in educational activities (1.5 hours less per day) and subsequently spend more time (1 hour per day) involved in unstructured leisure time activity, when compared to those from affluent backgrounds. This with the added dimension that ‘socially disadvantaged young people’s exposure to environments thought to be conducive to crime is significantly higher on average than that of those who are less disadvantaged,’ provide conditions for greater opportunities for those with criminal propensity to engage in criminal activity.
Prevention and early intervention
Interestingly, Nick Morgan (Home Office analyst), who was presenting on the findings of Wikström and Treiber, and Professor Huw Williams, who presented on brain systems and maturity, both emphasised early intervention, tailored support and relationships with trusted adults as providing protective factors for young people who have a high propensity for criminal activity. Jim Minton (Director of Membership and Communications at London Youth) along with a number of participants highlighted this as a key outcome of the work in which they deliver and/or support and that those skilled in working with adolescents can provide preventative and early interventions.
It was heartening to hear a shared perspective from academics, analysts and practitioners that recognise the significant role a trusted adult, with the relevant and appropriate skill set such as that of youth workers, could play in supporting positive outcomes for young people. Our own Count Me In paper had a significant focus on the evolving empirical findings regarding the impact of adolescent cognitive development. It argues that the understanding of the distinctive needs and responses of young people in this adolescent cognitive developmental stage is essential to effect positive outcomes with young people. Also, those professionals such as youth workers, understand the benefits of involving young people in co-designing services to effectively engage and support individuals through the adolescent stage.
It strikes me further exploration to align the growing understanding of the predictors of persistent criminal activity with the expanding awareness of adolescent cognitive development, could be a productive piece of work, giving us the opportunity to explore our sectors’ role in developing preventative and diversionary interventions to support young people’s protective factors from persistent criminal involvement.
What are the next steps? The challenge to those who organised and contributed to the event was how to take what was discussed in the session forward.
In response, as expressed by a number of contributors, it is essential we collate and analyse more consistent data to evidence need and impact, alongside an effective method of promoting and profile-raising impactful community practice, to ensure limited resource is effectively allocated.
Working alongside cross-sector partners, there is a role for Ambition to play as a national infrastructure body with a membership of over 150 organisations and agencies. Among our aims are to develop members’ impact measurement and evaluation expertise, and to broker and support the development of relationships across our entire community. This process is ongoing and with the assistance of a new online management system will enable us to demonstrate more effectively the scale and reach, and eventually the impact, of organisations across the country.
At the heart of this, we need to work together to ensure services are impactful and joined up to achieve the best possible outcomes for young people.