«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»
‘Early intervention’s key, when they’re forming the values and the opinions, to get that causal change in the mind. As I said, and I’ve said this many times, the most dangerous thing on the street isn’t the gun or the knife, or the bat or – whatever you’re gonna use to cause violence: the most dangerous thing on the street is the mind. And if that mind is impacted at an early age through some type of programming, correct programming, then the likelihood of them falling down a certain way will be less.’ (Third-sector practitioner 2, male) Many of the practitioners were pessimistic about the chances of success if early interventions were not the primary aim of their agency. It was to be noted that some of the third-sector organisations were particularly skilled at this type of work.
Some of the third-sector agencies targeted very young children at school and were equipped with knowledge and awareness of the dangers of becoming involved even on the very periphery of gangs.
‘So we go to schools and work with groups of boys, separately to the groups of girls, and have some real talk. We have sessions where kids are able to interrupt the presentation and not just wait while we stand in front of them and preach to them. So they can interject at any time and ask questions or comment or put something towards the presentation. And we talk about the realities of what they’re doing, and the consequences, and we explore the consequences, and – and nine times out of ten by the end of it they fully get it. You know, but you can see pennies dropping all round the room, because they actually explain – they actually explain themself what the problems are. So you kind of plant a seed and watch it grow in the room, as opposed to going in there and just preaching to them, so we have an open discussion. And then, you know, as well as that though, there’s fixed presentations that we do, and then we open it up.’ (Third-sector practitioner, male) Other non-statutory third-sector agencies gave examples of very imaginative and creative solutions that used practitioners’ various previous skills and professions, such as photography, music and theatre.
‘That’s creative, intervention that’s mentoring and training, and they’re not a theatre group or a drama group or a music group, although involves those things we use to kind of draw young people through problems, but when you say the types of programmes, at the moment we’ve got a gangs programme, a school programme.’ (Third-sector practitioner, female) Other creative solutions involved mentoring schemes and buddy schemes designed to enable young people who feel isolated and may be attracted to gangs due to their alienation to find alternative ways of making friends, increasing their self-esteem and feeling part of society.
Some of the interventions did appear to have quite high success rates, for example the Pathways projects demonstrated by one local authority practitioner.
‘We’ve had a lot of good success rate with our Pathways clients, as I mentioned earlier, where they get an advocate and we do home visits with them and everything.
And a lot of the time the family, you know, most of the families have been on board with us, so they’ve also helped the young person exit as well by influencing them and just saying, “Look, you know, this person here is your lifeline. This is your last resort, they’re offering you an apprenticeship, they’re offering you the way back and into college, or employment or another job,” if they’re over a certain age they can’t do apprenticeships. So we have had it where parents do encourage them and they do help us as well because they’re saying, “Oh, you know, my child wants to do this,” and then – I mean previously, we’ve stopped doing it now, we used to have something called a call in, where the parents would bring their young person along and they would sit in front of panel with people like superintendents from the police, probation and the youth offending team officer, the head of community safety, and like a community voice … So they would have their chance to do that, and we did find that parents would bring their children along when they got the letter saying, you know, “You have to attend this call in, if not you – enforcement route will be taken.” We did have a lot of positive outcomes from that. Parents would bring their families, their children would say. It did help. A lot of the time it has helped, I mean we found that out of the forty-five young people we’ve worked with on Pathways, twenty-nine have stopped offending.’ (Local council practitioner, female) All the practitioners saw work with parents to improve their communication and parenting skills as essential. This could also be done on a one-to-one level with mentors.
‘… we ran a parenting workshop, I’m going to be involved in recruiting parenting mentors, so actually having mentors going to families whose children might be with a mentor, but to be able – because what we don’t want to do is to mentor children and then take them back into the same environment where actually things may not be changing, so for those parents who feel that they could benefit from having a mentor to be able to support them, and look at their parenting skills, look at, you know, better ways of coping strategies for them’. (Local authority practitioner, female) Other practitioners had found groupwork with parents a particularly effective means of facilitating better communication skills and enhancing parents’ ability to set boundaries.
6.5.1 Working with denial One of the concerns of the professionals was the level of denial by both the gang members themselves and the gang members’ parents about their involvement.
‘I think I’d say at least 98% would never admit to being in the gang, that’s the first thing. There will be police intelligence that says they are linked to gangs, which is – or are in gangs, which has become something different. So when you’re sort of thinking about how it impacts on it, it can be a little bit tricky because they’re not going to admit to it.’ (Probation officer, female) The collusion, self-denial and public shame regarding the involvement of their children in gang activity would appear to prevent families accessing or successfully engaging with the agencies providing support and advice whether they are statutory or third sector, within the criminal justice system or outside. This is not uncommon in other areas where professionals are working with families to protect their children and facilitate healthy relationships (Hiles and Luger, 2006).
Many of the schemes that are being attempted were discussed in terms of the funding available. Concern was repeatedly voiced that some of the most successful projects are in danger of being cut, either because of austerity measures in public sector finances or a reduction in short-term charity funding, which prevented projects’ sustainability and development for permanent long-term support.
‘The next six months or so it’ll be like I says, practically it comes down to funding.
And then if you, you know, you try to get the funding to continue the support, and they’ll – “Well actually we can do this, we’ve got the administration to do it,” and they’ll take it off you, and just destroy six months’ worth of work, so it’s very frustrating at times … everybody shared work, let it be a partnership, If they’re saying throwing money more specifically at this agenda, then they really need to work in partnership with people who … have been doing it for years. And bring them into the loop, and share the resources properly, because they’re still, you know, we can’t do it without them, they can’t do it without us, so share the work and get real with it, otherwise ending gang violence, I mean, that will never happen.’ (Third-sector practitioner 3, female)
As with other strands of this research, the picture emerging from the practitioner interviews is mixed. Whilst examples were cited of intergenerational family involvement, other family stances cited ranged from tacit collusion with young people’s gang involvement to denial of a child’s involvement to – in many cases – a lack of family awareness of their children’s reality outside the home.
Families were commonly seen as struggling to supervise and control their children and set appropriate boundaries, a challenge compounded in many cases by the absence of a parent, economic and other pressures on the family, peer influences and the pull of the streets.
Whilst parents were seen in some cases as benefiting (eg materially) from some aspect of their child’s gang involvement, they were also seen as experiencing negative consequences and as wishing for their children to come out of their gang lifestyle and live a safer existence.
Practitioner feedback on effective interventions highlighted the importance of early intervention, overcoming family reluctance to acknowledge children’s gang involvement and encouraging families to seek support and taking effective measures before young people’s ‘on road’ lifestyle was established. It also highlighted the importance of supporting parents to improve their communication and parenting skills, and of providing young people with positive alternatives.
7. SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONSThe aim of this research was to explore the role of the family in facilitating gang membership, criminality and exit. This research revealed a complex mix of interlinking factors that include, but are not exclusive to, the family. This section summarises the main findings in the form of answers to several key questions.
7.1 Do gang-affected families have characteristic features?
This research concurs with the literature that shows that gang members come from singleparent and dual-parent households, large and small families, illustrating that there is not one gang family type.
We found evidence of gang membership in families where young people had a strong attachment to their families and parents, and in homes where one or more parents or carers were employed and law-abiding citizens, where the respondent was the only person engaged in gang-related activities, as well as in homes commonly described as ‘broken’.
Irrespective of composition, the majority of respondents described families experiencing multiple difficulties (such as economic deprivation, family separation, bereavement, domestic violence, imprisonment, and alcohol and substance misuse). There was a general reluctance by the young people, and the family members, interviewed to point to issues in the family as the main reason for their involvement in ‘gangs’, ‘on road’ or in ‘teams’. This finding was reflected in the testimonies of family members, who often cited factors external to the family as being more influential than internal ones. Thus both the young people and the family members interviewed tended to see the following factors as playing a part in
facilitating gang membership:
a hostile social environment where gang membership, criminality and violence were normalised in youth culture;
poor school experience and lack of educational attainment;
the search for identity, independence and respect; and a paucity of social services for young people, in particular social clubs and activities.
Whilst the vast majority of participants placed little emphasis on familial variables, some practitioners felt strongly that families did indeed play a large part in facilitating gang membership in addition to environmental and social factors. One of the common characteristics observed by practitioners was the denial, or refusal, of individuals and families to acknowledge gang membership.