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Family matters: a snapshot of the support available for gang-involved young people in the UK

A teenage boy and a teenage girl stand in a graffiti-covered underpass. He shows her something on his phone.

The Dawes Unit was a specialist unit within Catch22 that addressed the harms caused by gangs and youth violence, bringing together research, policy and practice. The service produced a range of research, which addresses the problems caused by gangs and explores how best to prevent gang involvement and support those looking to exit. This publication is part of that output.

Families have long been placed at the forefront of reducing social exclusion, from the introduction of Parenting Orders in 1998 right up to the current Troubled Families agenda. However, despite the strong policy focus, family support has remained peripheral to or absent from policy on gangs and gang-related offending. The Troubled Families programme was launched in 2011 with the brief of turning around the lives of 120,000 of the most challenging families in the UK. Currently gang involvement is not a specific criterion of inclusion in Troubled Families and therefore it is unclear to what extent these families are being supported through the programme.

This study has provided an overview of how families of gang-involved young people are being supported by publicly-funded family support services in the 33 Ending Gang and Youth Violence areas. The research starts by exploring the current evidence on family-based interventions with gang-involved young people and then goes on to look at current practice in the UK. A snapshot of current practice was created through a survey of Troubled Families Coordinators along with face-to-face and telephone interviews with these coordinators. This allowed us to examine how the services providing this support are structured and evaluated; how the types of difficulties families face become barriers to engaging with services and how services overcome these barriers. The key questions were:

  1. What is the current evidence base for work with families of gang-involved young people?
  2. How are family support services for young people involved in gangs structured and evaluated?
  3. What types of difficulties do these families face and how do these difficulties become barriers to engaging with services?
  4. How do services overcome these barriers of engagement and identify how to best assist these families?