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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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It is important to note the difficulty in accessing family members for the study. From early on in the study we noted some reluctance from participants to discuss family issues in groups. To achieve a high number of responses a decision was taken by the research team (in collaboration with Catch22) to reduce the number of focus groups and supplement them with individual interviews. Another important note is that the parents and siblings involved in this study are not necessarily related to the gang members who participated.

The interviews were organised at the convenience of the participants and typically took place within the referral organisation. They lasted between 25 minutes and 2 hours. Most of the interviews were tape recorded, fully transcribed and analysed.4 Due to problems associated with accessing gang members and family members for interview it was agreed that each respondent would receive a gift token (of their choice) in recognition of their participation.5

Secondary data

We intended to interview girls and young women as part of this study. However, because of difficulties in identifying and recruiting girls and young women involved in gangs (or associated with gang members), we were not able to access as many as we hoped.

Consequently, in this study, the majority of gang-involved individuals interviewed were male (only two were female; see Section 4). To ensure that the experiences of girls and young women involved with gangs or their members were heard, it was agreed that the findings on family structure and dynamics generated from an ongoing research project focusing specifically on girls’ and young women’s experiences ‘on road’ would be extrapolated and incorporated in this study (Young, 2013 forthcoming).6 In this latter project the girls and young women spoke about their home environment and the key factors that prompted their involvement in gangs. The data on families generated enriches this research because (a) it is one of the few research projects that has managed to engage young female ‘gangsters’ and (b) it offers a unique insight into the factors that push and pull girls towards ‘the road’. Research has consistently shown that these differ significantly from those influencing boys (Campbell, 1984; Moore, 1991; Miller, 2001;

Young, 2009). The familial experiences of 16 girls and women affiliated to gangs will therefore be used to augment the findings presented in this report. The majority of girls and young women were from the London area; one grew up in the West Midlands.

2.1.3 Strand three: Practitioner interviews

We conducted face-to-face and telephone interviews with voluntary and statutory practitioners delivering gang intervention/prevention initiatives and those working in law enforcement agencies (see Table 2). A wide range of services was contacted by the research team and Catch22, and asked to participate in this research.

Two interviews were not recorded, one because it took place in a noisy public space and the other because the interviewee agreed to participate but did not want to be recorded. In both instances extensive notes were taken afterwards.

Individuals who participated in a one-to-one interview were given a £30 voucher whilst those who participated in a focus group were offered a £10 token of thanks. The variation was due to the amount of participation required by each participant.

This research is currently being funded by London Metropolitan University.

Table 2: Interviews conducted with practitioners

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Seventeen practitioners from London and the West Midlands were interviewed. Those involved included front-line practitioners and operational managers from the youth offending service, probation service, police, local borough councils and third-sector organisations working with young people and parents affected by gangs and gang-related issues (see Appendix A for a full list of participants).

Practitioners were asked to consider the most influential factors relating to gang membership and to comment on the delivery of support for those young people affected. To ensure comparability in the data the semi-structured interviews conducted with practitioners closely mirrored those conducted with gang-involved young people and family members.

The aim of the interviews was to elicit whether practitioners’ perceptions of the issues concerning gang-involved young people and their families were the same as those of young people and families themselves, and to consider how these informed the provision and support they provided.

Practitioners and operational managers were asked about their practice, which obviously varied according to their role and whether this was statutory or non-statutory. They were also asked to highlight any duplication or gaps in service provision.

2.2 Data analysis The interviews were analysed using a method known as ‘Framework’, which was especially designed for analysing qualitative data (Ritchie and Lewis, 2003). This method involves systematically shifting, sorting and coding data and charting key issues and themes that emerge from the interviews. The analysis draws on questions informed by the original research brief, emergent issues raised by the interviewees themselves and recurrent patterns of views and experiences.

2.3 Methodological issues Recruiting participants proved more difficult than expected. Three main reasons were identified: the reduction in service provision, problems defining the gang and research saturation.

2.3.1 Reduction in service provision One of the main hurdles to recruitment was the loss of contact with services and practitioners. A number of projects working with gang-involved young people have lost funding and closed down (National Children’s Bureau, 2012; Puffet, 2012), making the search for suitable and willing participants more difficult and protracted as we searched for new contacts and agencies to work with.

2.3.2 Defining the ‘gang’

The second issue in recruitment is related to the term ‘gang’. Defining what constitutes a gang is a consistent problem (Hallsworth and Young, 2005, 2008). There is little consensus on which groups are gangs and, by implication, who the gang members are. The lack of coherence in defining the gang has allowed people to adopt their own view of the gang (and its members).7 The term ‘gang’ is not neutral and conjures up stereotypical images of a street-based, organised and territorial fighting group that is involved in serious, violent criminality. Its members are often assumed to be disenfranchised, feral young people who are habitually violent and aggressive. In England and Wales, gangs are negatively associated with black and minority ethnic young people (Hallsworth and Young, 2006). In Scotland youth gangs, or ‘teams’ as they are commonly known by young people, are white and Scottish; few youth gangs are from minority communities (Bannister et al, 2010:19).8 These groups, like their black and minority ethnic counterparts, are associated with problematic behaviour, including serious violent crime.

This popular view of gangs had an impact on our ability to reach young people and family members for inclusion in this study. A common response from practitioners working with young people in gang-affected neighbourhoods was that they did not work with gang members. We suspect that this attitude reflects, in part, reluctance by practitioners to be associated with media and law enforcement-led ‘gang-talk’ and its criminalising consequences (Thompson et al, 2002).

To overcome this hurdle we adopted the term ‘on road’ when approaching agencies. We switched to this term because it is frequently used by young people to describe their involvement with street-based groups and/or the illegal drugs market (Hallsworth and Silverstone, 2009; Gunter, 2010; Young and Hallsworth, 2011).9 It is an inclusive term that encapsulates the gang whilst at the same time not restricting recruitment of young people involved in other street groups. On the basis of this change, we managed to boost our sample. As it turned out, the profile of people we recruited to the study did, in fact, fit the requirements of the gang definition by Hallsworth and Young (2004).

At the time of writing the Home Office had adopted the definition drafted by the Centre for Social Justice (2009). See literature review.

According to Bannister et al (2010) the youth gang groups that were not ethnically Scottish were of Asian and Eastern European origin.

In Scotland the term ‘team’ was used to inform research.

2.3.3 Limitations No one research method is infallible and, as such, care must be exercised when interpreting the data accumulated for this exploratory study, particularly when generalising to the wider population. The following limitations should be considered when interpreting the findings from this study.

Qualitative interviews provide the ‘rich text’ data that quantitative analysis cannot supply.

However, interviewee testimonies do not always produce the ‘reality’ of a situation. Memories are subjective and selective (especially over time) and thus there can be many different interpretations of the ‘truth’ when considering the role of the family in facilitating gang membership, criminality and exit. Since the ‘truth’ of a situation is a subjective, as well as an objective, experience that differs according to perception, politics, positioning and power, it is important to understand the findings presented in this report as versions of the truth as expressed by the research participants, and also to take account of the motivations for sharing particular experiences.

The sample size for the project was relatively small, while sampling was purposive, with respondents deliberately chosen with the research aims and objectives in mind. The findings should NOT therefore be read as representative of all experiences involving gang-involved individuals and families.

Despite these limitations, this study contributes to a better understanding of the patterns and links between family structure, coherence and dynamics and gang membership, criminality and exit. As the literature review reveals, it also represents one of the first independent studies focusing on this issue in the UK.


GANGS There is some contention in the body of literature that exists on the relationship between the family and gang membership. Familial variables such as poor home socialisation, lack of parental control and weak familial ties, fatherlessness and lack of male role models, parental alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, multigenerational gang membership and familial criminality are thought to push young people into gang culture. 10 Indeed, commentators who place particular emphasis on the family argue that children raised in dysfunctional families join gangs to fill a void. A contemporary understanding of gang membership is that youngsters are attracted to gangs because they seek a surrogate family to fulfil their emotional needs (Campbell, 1984; Miller, 2001; Centre for Social Justice, 2009).

Other scholars have suggested that gang membership is not simply the result of a poor home environment but is also influenced by factors outside the family. Research has shown structural factors such as negative school experience and low academic attainment (Curry and Spergal, 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), institutional racism and oppression (Scott, 2004; Hayden, 2004) to be associated with gang membership.

Individual characteristics such as a defiant personality, a predilection for excitement and violence (Miller, 1958; Katz, 1988; Jankowski, 1991), and the search for ‘respect’ are also known to play a part. In what follows we outline the main debates that connect family structure, behaviours and relationships to gang membership, criminality and desistance.

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