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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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Identifying the factors that promote gang membership and gang-related violent crime is an essential part of the process of understanding the possible reasons why young people engage in certain behaviours and commit particular acts of violence. Academic research has detected several interconnected factors that are associated with gang membership and related criminality. As a generic, but not exhaustive, list these include social deprivation and poverty, poor educational experience and exclusion, lack of legitimate employment opportunities, subculture and peer influences, and particular family characteristics.

It is the family that is of interest to us here and the main focus of this report. The influence of the family on gang membership and youth crime, including gang-related violence, is an under-researched area. Few studies exist in the UK. The main body of literature on this topic originates from North America. Whilst the applicability of this material for understanding the emergence of the gang in the UK has been challenged (Downes, 1966;

Hallsworth and Young, 2004, 2010), it provides a useful point of departure for debate and a framework from which to start to piece together a coherent picture of the relationship between the family and gang experience in the UK that may, in turn, lead to an appropriate plan of action.

Within the literature the family as a key factor in encouraging gang membership and criminality is hotly debated. Familial variables such as poor home socialisation (Hagedorn, 1998), lack of parental supervision and weak familial ties (Hirschi, 1969), fatherlessness and lack of male role models (Miller, 1958), parental alcohol and substance abuse (Bjerregaard and Smith, 1993; Artz, 1998; Fleisher, 2000), physical and sexual violence within the home (Campbell, 1986; Vigil, 1988; Moore, 1991; Young, 2011) and familial criminality, including inter- and multigenerational gang membership (Jankowski, 1991;

Klein, 1995; Miller, 2001), are thought to be key variables which push young people into gang culture.

Indeed, a number of policy documents dedicated to understanding and tackling gang violence have identified problems and troubles that arise within the family, particularly those The authors recognise that the term ‘gang’ is problematic and it is important to note that much violence and criminality by young people in groups is not attributable to gangs. (See Hallsworth and Young, 2005, 2008, 2010; Hallsworth and Silverstone, 2009; Young, 2009, 2011.) that surface within the formative and teenage years of a child’s life, to be crucial ingredients for gang membership (Centre for Social Justice, 2009; Home Office, 2011).

As convincing as the literature on the family may seem to some scholars and policy makers, others have pointed out that the evidence is far from conclusive. Offering a more nuanced viewpoint, scholars have suggested that gang formation is not simply the result of a poor home environment or a ‘broken’ family. Influential factors outside the family unit are also known to have an impact on young people’s involvement in street gangs. Negative school experience and academic attainment (Curry and Spergel, 1992; Esbensen and Huizinga, 1993), deindustrialisation and lack of legitimate employment opportunities (Hagedorn, 1988; Vigil, 1996; Hallsworth and Young, 2010), peer association (Cloward and Ohlin, 1960; Jankowski 1991) and institutional racism and oppression (Scott, 2004;

Hayden, 2004) are correlated with gang formation and membership, as are individual characteristics such as a predilection for defiance, excitement and violence (Miller, 1958;

Katz, 1988; Jankowski, 1991) and the search for status and respect.

1.1 Research aims The research commissioned by Catch22 was designed to contribute to the debate on the role of the family in facilitating gang membership, criminality and exit in the UK. The purpose of this exploratory study was to understand the complex relationship between gang

membership and family dynamics. It had several key aims:

 to examine the role families play in influencing gang membership and gang-related criminality and in doing so to identify which factors, if any, are most influential;

 to identify what strategies parents and carers take to discourage gang involvement;

and  to highlight family-focused best practice policies and interventions that encourage desistance amongst gang affiliated youth.

1.2 Report structure The following section provides an account of the research methodology. Section three reviews the literature on familial influence on gang formation, criminality and desistance.

Sections four to six present the findings from gang-involved individuals, family members and practitioners. Section seven comprises a summary of the research and recommendations.

2. METHODOLOGY This qualitative research was undertaken to explore the nature of the relationship between family members and their gang-involved relatives. By gathering the experiences and perceptions of gang members and relatives of gang-involved individuals we wanted to discover how family members experienced being associated with gangs.

We also set out to explore how differently family members were situated in terms of their knowledge of gang-related activities and the extent to which relatives (principally parents and primary carers) were able to influence the behaviour of their gang-involved relative.

Several broad questions informed this research. These were:

 What are the characteristic features of gang-associated families (ie composition, socio-economic status)?

 What kind of relationship exists between gang members and their immediate family members (eg parents/carers and siblings) and how does this influence gang membership, criminality and desistance?

 To what extent do external factors (such as social disorganisation and youth culture) override familial influences and encourage gang membership, criminality and exit?

 To what extent do gang-associated families benefit from having a gang-involved relative?

 What, if any, are the negative aspects of gang membership for the individual and gang-associated family members?

 How do the families of gang members cope with the gang experience and how does this relate to other factors in their lives?

 Under what conditions do families seek assistance to help with their gang- involved relatives?

2.1 Research design

The fieldwork was undertaken in three sites: London (Area 1), the West Midlands (Area 2:

Wolverhampton and Birmingham) and Scotland (Area 3: Glasgow). Participants drawn from these sites represent different cultural and ethnic groups; they also reflect a broad range of experiences in relation to gang membership.

Conducted over a six-month period, the research comprises three strands: a literature review; semi-structured one-to-one interviews and focus group discussions with former and current gang members and family members of those involved; and interviews with practitioners working with gang-involved individuals and their relatives (see below).

2.1.1 Strand one: Literature review

The literature review was completed at the beginning of the study. Its aim was to review existing theories on family composition, functionality and interpersonal relationships as causal factors for gang membership, criminality and exit. Literature and research material focusing on the impact of culture, social and economic structure on families and young people was also considered. The strand involved a systematic search of the literature using a range of materials, including online sources, peer-reviewed journal articles and

monographs. The literature review was conducted in four stages:

 Stage one: The identification of key and relevant material (eg US, UK and European academic literature, policy documents and research).

 Stage two: Sifting and filtering the information. This screening process assessed the quality of the literature/evidence to ensure that the collated material was fit for purpose. Material that was deemed not fit for purpose (eg biased or incomplete research) was discarded.

 Stage three: Synthesis of findings and production of an overall summary.

 Stage four: Drawing of the literature review together into a coherent, accessible chapter to include in the final report.

2.1.2 Strand two: Semi-structured one-to-one interviews and focus group discussions with ‘gang-involved’ people and family members Thirty-one face-to-face interviews and two focus groups were conducted across the three areas. The main focus of the interviews was to explore the relationships between family members and their gang-involved relatives to identify which factors were most influential in determining gang membership, criminality and exit. The findings in this report are based on the testimonies, opinions and perceptions of those involved in gangs or ‘on road’ and family members.


A number of strategies were used to identify a sample for the study. Catch22 provided the research team with lists of community organisations and practitioners to follow up (see Appendix A). Prospective interviewees were identified from within these organisations and from previous contacts established by the research team. Organisations were approached by letter (electronic) outlining the purpose of the study. The letter was followed up by a telephone call and interviews arranged with willing participants. The majority of participants were recruited from the supplied list, but some were recruited using the ‘snowballing’ technique. This involved asking participants to provide the details of other gang-involved individuals or family members whom they knew who might be willing to contribute.

Following procedures used in previous research with vulnerable young people (Cusick et al, 2003), each participant was asked to read and sign a consent form (see Appendix B) detailing the study aims and issues around confidentiality. All prospective participants were given a chance to digest the information and ask further questions about the study before deciding whether or not to participate.


Fifty-eight gang-involved individuals and family members took part in interviews (see Table 1).2 Of these, the majority (36) were current or former gang members. In some instances these respondents were also the children, siblings or relatives of gang-involved individuals.

Others interviewed were parents and siblings of former or current gang-involved individuals (n = 22).3 Table 1: Interview sample across all three areas

–  –  –

Data collection The main method of data collection for this study was the semi-structured interview and focus group. An interview schedule was used as part of the interview process (see

Appendix C) and explored the following topics:

 the neighbourhood in which respondents grew up or in which they are currently residing;

 family composition and history of criminality and/or involvement in/with gangs;

 the consequences of gang involvement for the individual and their family;

young people’s involvement in gangs or being ‘on road’; and   leaving the gang and strategies employed by the family to dissuade involvement.

Given the sensitivity of the topic it was essential that the interviews were informal and flexible. An interview schedule was designed (see Appendix C) to inform, rather than overly structure, the interviews. Respondents were encouraged to explore a range of views and experiences on the links between family factors and gang criminality, membership and exit.

In some instances (two) this was done via focus groups, with icebreaker games, mind maps and vignettes used to encourage those involved to bond as a group, engender trust and encourage participation.

All research participants have been given false names wherever they are referenced in the report.

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