«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»
This research suggests that troubles within the family can contribute to pushing some young people into street life and gangs but for the majority of young people and family members who took part in this study it was not seen as the key driver for gang formation or exit; the reality, as the literature illustrates, was more complicated. The complexity of these ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors that propel young people into street life and gangs requires practitioners to think of creative and multifaceted methods of engaging with families to support them in facilitating gang exit. Agencies working with beleaguered families need to address the social and emotional difficulties they face with focused interventions that target specific problems such as education, employment and housing as well as general parenting and communication skills. What is clear from these interviews is that, on the whole, being ‘on road’ or a gang member or having a relative that is involved in a gang causes problems for the majority of individual and family members.
The overriding experience of gang involvement for family members was stress and worry.
Mothers, in particular, worried about the safety of their children and worried for the future of their children and noted how they had lost control of them, particularly boys, as they approached adolescence. The lack of control, together with a heightened sense of individualism and freedom in young people, had resolved into a situation where some parents were unable to discipline or place boundaries on their child’s behaviour. Some were unable fully to comprehend their child’s reality outside of the home and were therefore disempowered with regard to being able to protect their children from harm or to encourage desistance, despite trying. The lack of comprehension was exacerbated by the ability of those engaged in gangs and illegal activities to develop a range of strategies to hide their deviant behaviour from others.
Most parent(s), relatives and siblings interviewed disapproved of gang involvement, which some youngsters knew, and attempted to dissuade their children from involvement. Some family members, but by no means all, ‘colluded’ with their relative by ‘turning a blind eye’ or accepting money or goods, but this was not found to be the norm amongst participants.
Many felt that once someone had become embroiled in gang life there was little that they could do to change it unless the gang-involved individual themselves wanted to do so.
The research suggests that gang members are not a homogeneous community and come from a range of family types. Some families are troubled, some neglectful of their young and some highly abusive. The majority, however, were not the ‘problem’ families singled out for censure by underclass thinking; they may best be described as ‘beleaguered families’.
By and large they were composed of multiply marginalised people, living in highly adverse social and economic conditions, who tried to do the best for their young people with very limited resources, very limited support, in the context of a society keen to label them pejoratively and criminalise them.
7.2 Family victimisation 7.2.1 Do gangs target family members?
The research uncovered some cases where family members were targeted by individuals from rival groups but found no compelling evidence to suggest that this was a regular occurrence. In addition, there was no evidence that family members were forcibly recruited into gangs or that sexual violence was used as ‘a weapon of choice’ against family members of gangs. There appeared to be a general consensus that the code of the street stressed the importance of keeping ‘beef’ within the constituency of gang members and others involved in life ‘on road’, and this was largely coupled with the injunction to leave those not involved out of consideration.
7.2.2 Are families therefore victims?
Family members may not in general be the direct victims of gang violence but they are victims in two other ways. First, they experience considerable distress at their children’s involvement in the crime and violence that accompanies gang life, and their victimisation can be compounded by the absence of the positive support they need in order to address the stresses that are associated with this. Second, although by no means responsible for their child’s decision to join gangs or commit crime, families may have to experience the sometimes tragic consequences. This can vary and can involve having their homes raided by the police, being coercively treated by enforcement agencies, dealing with the prosecution and incarceration of their young, and the bereavement that might follow a fatal incident. Coupled with the stigmatisation they may also face and the adverse living conditions many experience, such victimisation may increase as opposed to decrease the beleaguered situation they confront.
7.3 Desistance and exit 7.3.1 Can families play a decisive role in helping their young people leave gangs and gang life?
The majority of gang-involved young people featured in this report argued that the decision to leave their group was one that they ultimately had to make alone. The motivation to relinquish gang life often followed a significant event in their lives, such as starting a family, being arrested and/or imprisoned, serving a lengthy prison sentence. It was also the case that some had matured and become disillusioned with gang life because of the constant violence and harassment they were exposed to. It was perhaps because the motivation to leave the gang was linked to personal events that few respondents cited family influence as a deciding factor.
However, as some of the interviews revealed, family members did play a role in gang exit.
The interviews revealed accounts of mothers trying to steer their children from involvement by listening and supporting them through tough times, keeping them in, seeking help from local services and taking steps to remove young people from the area. Some parents were more successful than others but the point to raise here is that where the influence of families is limited, particularly if the gang-involved relative is not ready to quit, they can have some beneficial effect, which means there is a role to play for families in promoting gang desistance. The challenge for services is to identify how best to assist gang-involved families to provide a supportive environment to encourage their relatives to leave, and to help and support those who are in the process of assisting their youngster to leave.
7.4 Recommendations Avoid stigmatising the families of gang members unduly. Not all are ‘troubled’ or ‘broken’ families but most can better be described as ‘beleaguered’. This label is non-stigmatising as well as more appropriate.
Do not reify, exaggerate or homogenise the gang. The majority of gang members drift out of gang behaviour and the families’ experience of the gang is influenced by geographic and ethnic variation. Local practitioners need to be aware of the local criminal landscape. One size, as they say, does not fit all.
Practitioners involved in the delivery of bespoke interventions need to anticipate some complicity and denial when working with families of gang members. Yet beyond this, family members, in particular mothers, ought to be sought out as valuable partners in positively working to change the dynamics of family relationships.
The report lends support to existing multiagency programmes designed to provide help for vulnerable parents to improve their parenting skills, with particular emphasis on parenting in adolescence and non-corporal ways to discipline adolescent boys.
The report suggests that replicating initiatives that provide safe accommodation for those who are victims of serious violence22 and investing in other programmes that can provide long-term housing away from the local gang will help gang members desist from their offending behaviour.
Interventions are important, but they need to be targeted at complex problems experienced by beleaguered families rather than being directed specifically at future gang involvement. Adolescence is a key point at which gang members and their relatives, especially mothers and sisters, need appropriate facilities and support that they can access, particularly the point at which the gang member is ready to leave the group.
Examples include the Southwark Emergency Rehousing Victims of Violence Enterprise.
APPENDIX A: CONTRIBUTING AGENCIES AND
ORGANISATIONSLondon Not Another Drop Hackney Probation Service Hackney Youth Offending Service Westminster Youth Offending Service Barking and Dagenham Probation Service Chaos Theory SafetyBox VIPMinds Metropolitan Police Service The West Midlands Wolverhampton Council Wolverhampton Youth Offending Service The West Midlands Mediations and Transformation Service West Midlands Police Service Engage Youth Empowerment Services (Wolverhampton) Citizens for Change The New Day Foundation (Birmingham) City of Wolverhampton College Scotland Violence Reduction Unit SideKix Ltd Glasgow Community Safety Services (GCSS) The Princes Trust Fairbridge in Glasgow (part of the Princes Trust) APEX Scotland
APPENDIX B: YOUNG PERSON CONSENT FORMThe Role of the Family in Facilitating Gang Membership, Criminality and Exit – Consent Form You are being asked to participate in a research study. Before you agree to take part it is important that you understand why the research is being carried out and what it will involve. Please take some time to read the following information and be sure to ask questions if you need to.
This study concentrates on the family. It seeks to explore whether, and in what way, family characteristics contribute to gang membership and criminality. It looks at the life experiences of parents, siblings and other family members whose relatives are in gangs. The study also seeks to uncover the strategies used by family members to protect themselves from the negative aspects of gang membership (eg victimisation) or to help their gang-involved relatives to quit their involvement in gangs.
The focus group/interview you are about to take part in will be tape-recorded. All the answers that you give will remain confidential. The research is independent of any criminal justice organisations and the responses that you give will not be passed on. Whilst the focus group/interview is confidential it is imperative that you do not disclose serious offending which may be carried out in the future.
All findings from the research will be generalised. Your responses will not be recognisable by other people. Where quotes are used they will be anonymised (for example we will use a letter or a fictitious name) in order to secure your identity.
Your views are important to us, but it is up to you to decide whether or not you would like to take part. There is no pressure for you to do so. It is also important to note that there are no right or wrong answers; just be as open as you can.
If you agree to take part please read and sign the consent form (attached). If you do consent, but find that do not want to continue, you can withdraw at any time without giving an explanation.
I agree to participate Signature:
PARENTAL CONSENTThis section is to be signed by a parent (or guardian) of participants under the age of 15.
I ……………………….. being the parent ( or guardian of ) ………………………… agree to his/her participation in the study undertaken by Catch22 and London Metropolitan University. In signing
this form, I declare the following:
Relationship to participant: ……………………….
APPENDIX C: INTERVIEW SCHEDULEThe Role of the Family in Facilitating Gang Membership, Criminality and Exit – Interview/Focus Group Plan Welcome Introduction of the facilitator and assistant.
What is the study about?