Fifteen-year old Jade Butcher* was on her way home from school
when she was viciously assaulted by a group of young people. Her
attackers live nearby and she is now too scared to leave her house.
She has reported the crime to the police but is afraid of reprisals
if they are prosecuted and she has to give evidence against
In the past there has been little direct help for young people such
as Jade, which is why Victim Support has been developing its
service for young victims of crime. The traditional route, whereby
parents are helped to listen and respond to their children’s
experiences, has become increasingly unsatisfactory for several
- Young victims of crime experience an added dimension that is
not shared by most adults – that of how their parents or carers
might react. Their response is coloured by, for example, the
expectation that a parent might be angry with them for being
“careless” enough to have their expensive mobile phone stolen.
- Not all young people have a supportive parent who is able – or
willing – to help them recover after the experience.
- Many young people need to talk about what has happened with a
trusted adult first, before deciding how and when to broach the
issue with their parent. Some may simply prefer to talk to someone
independent of their family who can take a balanced view, and who
will not judge them.
- Some young people are themselves the victims of their parents’
Research into the effects of crime on young people tends to
focus on young people as victims of sexual or physical abuse. Less
well understood are the needs of young people who are bullied,
robbed on their way home from school, sexually assaulted by other
young people they know or who are the victims of racist and
The little research that does exist shows young people are at
least as likely to be victims as adults, and more likely to be
repeatedly victimised. If they do not receive effective help after
a serious crime, they may experience symptoms of post-traumatic
stress disorder. This needs to be recognised by teachers, health
and social services staff who still tend to underestimate the
damaging effects of victimisation. The recent suicide of a bullied
11-year-old boy illustrates this point and the inadequacy of mental
health services for young people was highlighted in Community
Care’s Changing Minds campaign last year.
The director of children’s mental health charity YoungMinds,
Peter Wilson, says: “There’s a tendency [for GPs] to under-diagnose
and say the parents are worrying too much. At one level, GPs don’t
want to know…there’s the question of who to refer the family to.
There just aren’t enough services.”1
Research points to a strong link between victimisation and
offending in young people. Professor David Smith’s recent Edinburgh
study found that children who are victims of crime at age 12 are
more likely to become offenders themselves by 15.2 It
may be that receiving effective support could help steer some young
victims away from offending behaviour, if the support provided
helps them explore their options for acceptable ways of staying
So what is being done to offer a better service to young victims?
Victim Support has been working with a group of its local managers
and volunteers and other voluntary organisations concerned with
children and young people to develop a service model for
The work involves four components:
- The service model, which sets out what service a young person
can expect to receive, and the standards to which it is
- Practice guidance to help managers and volunteers implement the
service and deal with issues such as what to do if a child who has
been supported asks for a hug.
- A child protection policy setting out requirements and an
obligation to act on disclosures or suspicions of abuse. The
requirements include ensuring that agreements are in place with
local social services and area child protection committees to help
with referral and exchange of information.
- The Young People’s Support Pack to allow staff and volunteers
to communicate with children and young people, assess service needs
and their competence to request a service without parental approval
and record contact.3
The Young People’s Support Pack contains three sections by age
(infant, junior and secondary) and enables young people to describe
what has happened to them, how they feel and what they want to do
about it by writing, drawing, talking, colouring in or completing
The feedback Victim Support received after piloting the packs has
been encouraging. It was “spot on”, according to one young person
who used it and volunteers have described it as “a good way of
easing into the topic which made it easier for the child”. Another
volunteer left the pack with the child and their parent, who filled
it in together and found that it helped them communicate. This
bodes well for the pack’s use within Victim Support.
There are nearly 400 local branches of Victim Support in England
and Wales and some of them, such as Victim Support Croydon in
London, have won local funding for developing their work with young
victims. In January this year, the branch launched its RU OK?
drop-in service and has received many more referrals than
As part of its work in a local school, the branch asked pupils what
they most wanted. More popular than skate parks, discos and ice
rinks was “more adults who listen to you, and take you seriously”.
Geraldine Lowe, youth project leader at Victim Support Croydon,
says: “Young victims need someone to listen to them, give them the
space to explore the options open to them and help them decide
which of the adults in their life is most able to help them.”
Other young people might need more structured support, as in the
case of a seven-year-old girl traumatised by a burglary. The Victim
Support volunteer found that the girl was too frightened to go
upstairs to her bedroom, which the burglar had entered. Over
several visits, the child sat on the stairs with her parents and
the volunteer and during each visit, the volunteer talked with the
child about her fears. Gradually, they moved further up the stairs
until the child felt safe enough to go into her bedroom
Working with parents and carers is often the key to effective work
with young people.
A young man was referred to Victim Support by his teacher after he
was robbed of his mobile phone. His parents’ response had been to
insist on him arriving home earlier, which he felt was a
punishment. Victim Support helped him negotiate with his parents
and introduced him to a volunteer from its witness service for
support when he gives evidence in court.
We can’t expect young people to grow into responsible adults if we
fail to respond to their needs when they are traumatised by crime.
If we fail to support young victims, we will leave them isolated,
depressed, and perhaps at greater risk of becoming offenders
themselves. Everyone who is concerned about the well-being of young
people must work to meet the needs that the young people in Croydon
so clearly articulated. This means ensuring that all young victims
have access to adults who will listen to them and help them explore
their options for resolving the complex range of feelings and
consequences of victimisation.
* Name has been changed
Peter Dunn is head of research and development at Victim
1 P Wilson, quoted in “Family fears”, Community
Care, 3 October 2002
2 D Smith, and L McAra, The Edinburgh Study of Youth
Transitions and Crime, School of Law, University of Edinburgh,
Research sponsored by the Economic & Social Research
for details of support pack. It is funded by the Diana,
Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.