Social workers should target diminishing resources on school-based or family-focused programmes to prevent young people being drawn into youth violence or gangs, according to research.
A literature review from the Early Intervention Foundation, published today, said the indicators that a child may be drawn into gangs or youth violence are visible from seven years old.
Researchers found that some common factors which placed a child at risk of youth violence or gang involvement later in life, including:
- Low achievement in primary school
- Coming from families with a history of family violence and long-term unemployment
- Aggression/physical violence
- Running away from home
- Positive attitudes towards delinquency
- Previous criminal activity
- Family poverty
- Peer rejection
- Exposure to drugs
Individual factors, such as low self-esteem, were more powerful signs of risk than their overall contexts, such as coming from a low-income family, the report said.
The charity said that frontline workers must be able to spot early signs and provide targeted resources. It identified parent training, family therapy and home visits as the most effective methods for steering children and young people away from a life of crime.
Carey Oppenheim, chief executive of the Early Intervention Foundation, said local areas should use the research to spot risks.
“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,” she said.
She added: “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.
“This group is one of the most vulnerable in our society and need to be supported to build critical emotional and social skills, develop resilience and lead safe, healthy, law-abiding lives.”
Good family management, positive or prosocial attitudes and high academic achievement were factors that protected from youth violence, the report said.
Roy Perry, chairman of the Children and Young People Board at the Local Government Association said the report was a useful contribution to the evidence on how to make sure the best support and interventions possible are put forward.