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«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»

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‘There is nothing to do … no football club, park. The only community centre they pulled it down.’ (Mother of gang member) Nevertheless there were examples in Scotland of families successfully coping and helping their male relatives desist from criminality. In none of these cases could the successful desistance from criminality be reduced to one factor as all of the families deployed a number of strategies, ranging from familial informal help or reasserting boundaries, to reaching out to criminal justice or social work interventions.

For example, in Family A, the mother moved herself and her son out of the area and instigated contact with a local charity as well as paying for him to enrol on a practical course that would lead to employment. Mothers also sought help from their extended family networks, for example sisters or daughters or grandmothers. For example, in Family B, the mother initially sent her son to live with his grandmother, then accessed a local charity for support and finally sent her son to live in England with his sister. This, combined with drug rehabilitation, broke the lure of his local gang affiliation. These informal networks seem to be invaluable, except where more of the family were criminally involved as the child then just moved into another difficult situation. The important caveat in all these cases is that the move away from criminality was relatively recent, with a risk that it may not be sustained.

5.4 Conclusions  The picture that emerges from interviews with family members is one of families experiencing multiple difficulties (such as economic deprivation, family separation, bereavements and violence), for whom having a child join a gang is an added source of stress and worry.

Another common theme is the parents’ feeling of powerlessness, with a sense that  young people are caught up in a pervasive culture, that (especially where fathers are absent) family members are out of control, that parents lack the means to impose discipline and (in England in particular) a sense among young people that gang involvement is becoming normalised – seen as one of a number of rational responses by young people seeking access to the good things in life.

 There are differences between the black and minority ethnic families interviewed in England and the white families interviewed in Scotland. In England there seems to be normalisation of ‘on road’ life within the narratives of some young people and a lack of viable alternatives to gang life, such as employment. As a whole these narratives are certainly different from those of the white respondents and possibly bleaker, which is consistent with literature on BME disadvantage (Home Office, 2011).

 Despite this, there are significant differences within families: a given family with a criminal son can include both law-abiding and enterprising siblings and mother, and although a minority of families may experience some of the privileges of a criminal lifestyle, as demonstrated in the previous section, as a whole families are disapproving of their relatives’ involvement in crime.

 As has been explored in earlier sections, leaving a gang or leaving the violence associated with criminality is not easy, not because exit rituals constitute a disincentive nor because gang membership is expected for life but because of the poverty of viable alternatives. In relation to successfully leaving a gang the most often voiced coping strategy was to leave the area, a move often facilitated through informal (extended) familial networks, although for some this was impossible.

Families that succeeded in helping male relatives leave gangs tended to deploy a mix of strategies, combining informal family help with agency support and interventions.


The findings below are based on semi-structured interviews with 17 practitioners and operational managers overseeing practitioners working with young people ‘on road’ or involved in group-related offending. The agencies are listed within Appendix A and a table of interviewees is provided in Section 2 under Strand three: Practitioner interviews. There were slightly more men than women in the practitioner sample.

Due to the small number of practitioners interviewed within each area, general perceptions and themes regarding family characteristics will be discussed collectively. The final section will discuss the types of interventions available and the rationale behind the provision.

Practitioners’ comments on their personal evaluation of the effectiveness of this support will also be addressed.

All the practitioners interviewed were highly qualified and experienced. It was striking that many had higher degrees at Masters level and above. They also had a wide range of varied and relevant professional qualifications. These included teaching, residential care experience, working with special needs, law, professional music performance and race relations. This undoubtedly enriched and broadened their direct experience of working within the criminal justice system or other agencies engaged with young people. All of the practitioners also had a number of years’ experience which they utilised within their role.

Their level of commitment and obvious passion for their work and for helping the young people, and their families, came across in all the interviews conducted, whatever the role being undertaken.

6.1 The role of the family in facilitating gang membership When looking at the role of the family in facilitating gang membership, practitioners had a variety of experiences regarding the composition and culture of the families they had worked with in their agencies. Some of these findings correspond with the experiences of the gang members interviewed for the study, while others support research that has been previously undertaken into the family characteristics of gang members (Hoffmann, 2006).

6.1.1 Family characteristics

The families with whom practitioners had worked were varied in their structure. The vast majority of the practitioners interviewed stated that the gang members they had worked with often came from larger families with a large number of siblings. This correlates with other research into children who have the propensity to engage in delinquent behaviour (Loeber and Farrington, 1998; Rutter et al, 1998; Lyon et al, 2000).

‘I’d say it differs, a number we’ve been to see are very large families, and it tends to be, and I’m generalising here, but a lot of the young people I’ve met are the eldest son, and they’ve got three, four, five siblings.’ (Police manager, male) ‘… quite large families. Large families … living – as I say my perception would be living in deprived areas.’ (Local council manager, female) Some interviewees in London and the West Midlands identified the families they worked with as varied in composition but predominantly Caribbean.

‘A general family, it’s the – mum and dad working hard, you get similar scenarios where it may be single parent families, but that’s not always the case. It’s actually a lot of – unfortunately it’s definitely a black, Caribbean issue, on the whole, although there is some gangs that are made up of whites … unfortunately it’s a stereotype, but it’s a true one, is that it’s a black Caribbean issue, they tend to be both parents working or single-parent families, other siblings in the household, and it’s just a case of the children are out doing stuff in the street in their local environment where this is an issue.’ (Probation officer, male) Other practitioners reinforced the fact that single-parent families and children whose parents had separated were over-represented among those attracted to gang membership.

This characteristic was seen as influencing the amount of active supervision children received from their parent/parents and also the material resources available for the family (see later for more discussion of these matters).

‘A lot of it is single-parent families. They haven’t really got that male … role model, they haven’t got that male in the family, and so the mum’s gotta do two roles and she might, you know, work full time and not always have the time with the children, I don’t always say it’s a bit of a cliché “Oh it’s single-parent families”, coz a lot of the time it’s not – it’s not their fault that they’re a single-parent family … most of it is the home life I think that does cause it.’ (Local council practitioner, female) ‘A similar characteristic like the father’s not on the scene in any consistent way, and hasn’t been, so generally from my experience they have been single mothers raising children on – mainly on estates. That’s just been the kind of general. The other large minority group represented were those families who had employed parents, including a parent or parents in good or professional work.’ (Probation officer, female) ‘Some of them are in what would be considered quite good jobs. Maybe nursing, I’ve had a social worker, teacher, you know? They fit the whole range … yeah some of the mothers are not going to be working, but some of them that’s due to being homemakers, but they – you know, they don’t fit into a category in terms of my own experience of them, they have had, you know, like what would be considered quite good jobs. I would have to say it’s generally been those mothers who I’ve had more contact with, because they’re ringing up, wanting to know, so if I’ve interviewed the son at pre-sentence report stage or they’re just coming onto the Order.’ (Probation officer, female) It is possible that these parents are most likely to seek help and therefore receive a disproportionate amount of attention from these agencies (see Section 6.5).

6.1.2 Supervision and control There was general consensus that often the families found it difficult to control or discipline their children or place appropriate boundaries on their behaviour once they reached the age of ten and beyond. This supports previous research in this area (Thornberry, 1998; Loeber and Farrington, 1998). Many of the practitioners interviewed voiced concerns about the inability of parents to communicate and negotiate with their children.

‘I think the parents are quite concerned. They’re concerned, they don’t quite have it down as to what levels of supervision they should be giving, so they have difficulty with implementing boundaries, setting boundaries and implementing them … as their youngsters get older, it’s harder for them to think about sanctions or consequences for undesired behaviour, where, you know, there’s no real pattern. So if you don’t sort of have that pattern from when they’re very little of benevolent consequences … people sort of struggle with some of those skills and techniques, even more so as the child gets older.’ (Local council manager, female) The other difficulty that practitioners noted within families with gang membership issues was that parents were often unaware of their children’s activities outside the home (Aldridge et al, 2009). This could be due to both social or community isolation of the parent(s) and general lack of awareness of the lived reality of their children outside the home.

‘I think for a lot of the families is this not really being aware of what is going on outside of the context of the family, and aware of what their young children might – or young people might be getting up to. I think there’s a lack of connectedness between the parents and the children as a result.’ (Local council practitioner 2, female) This is particularly relevant where parents were either both working full-time or within single-parent households where the parent was working full-time or held down a number of part-time jobs.

‘There’s a lot of major problems in there, and it’s like the families – we find that some of the parents – it’s not their fault, but they work full-time so there’s little supervision at home, these kids don’t always rush back from school, they’re causing a lot of problems after school.’ (Local council practitioner, female) It was identified that key peak time for difficulties in terms of setting boundaries was the period just after school finished (3.30 pm) and before the parent arrived home after work, usually after 6 pm.

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