Gang involvement seriously damages young lives. We are researching the impact of a radical new approach to engaging young people involved in gang-related activity.

New models of working with gangs

We worked with MAC-UK, a small charity in North London that delivers mental health interventions to marginalised young people at risk of antisocial and/or gang-related activity. MAC-UK has developed an innovative, evidence-based model called Integrate that is effective in reaching out to excluded young people. It is a radical approach taking what we know works in mental health and applying it in new ways.The aims of the Integrate model are reducing serious youth violence and re-offending, getting young people engaged in training, education and employment, or getting them back into existing services.

Over three years, we evaluated all four sites, researching the impact of these interventions on young people as well as their effects on the wider community. You can see our findings in Meeting us where we're at. We found that the projects were very successful in engaging groups of marginalised young people at risk of offending. Young people distinguished their experience of the projects from that of other services, describing staff as non-judgemental and accepting.

Our evaluation of the fourth site, Unlocking a different future, also shares the untold story behind the young men often labelled as ‘gang members’: the context in which they have grown up, the inequalities they have faced and how these have prevented access to help and contributed to poor wellbeing and risk of offending.

Society sees you as a gang member. Everyone sees you like that. Like I was walking home and I had my hood up because it’s cold and you walk past a woman and she, like, clutches her bag tighter. Like I’m not gonna do anything, but that's the way society looks at you.

As a result of our research, we're calling for:

  • Local authorities, NHS commissioners, Police and others should pool budgets to offer long-term funding to services like the project which support marginalised young people.

  • Mental health service providers and commissioners should develop services for young people using the principles of the project: at least one in every Sustainability and Transformation Partnership or Accountable Care System area.

  • Schools need to be ‘psychologically informed’, with staff who are trained in understanding and addressing trauma, stress and distress and ‘life lessons’ on the curriculum.

  • Prisons need a profound culture shift to prioritise wellbeing and rehabilitation in order to stop the cycle of offending.

 

Girls in gangs

A small minority of young people is involved in gangs in the UK but they are the subject of considerable public and political concern. But there is limited information on the scale and pattern of risk factors experienced by young women associated with gangs in the UK.

Our report is the result of a comprehensive literature review on girls involved in gangs and an analysis of data collected by health screening initiatives in England for more than 8,000 young people at the point of arrest as part of our Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion work.

On average, young women involved with gangs had more than double the number of vulnerabilities than the other girls who were screened after arrest. The results of the screening shows clear evidence of the psychological vulnerability of gang involved young women. Just over a quarter were identified as having a suspected mental health problem and 30% were identified as self-harming or at risk of suicide.

What you can do - policy

  • The Government should ensure that the statutory duty on the Secretary of State to reduce local health inequalities translates into meaningful and measurable local action.
  • NHS England should commission point of arrest liaison and diversion services which are gender-sensitive and recognise the deleterious impact of gang membership on children’s health and social outcomes.
  • The Youth Justice Board and the Home Office Violence Prevention Unit should continue and extend work to produce tools, training materials and initiatives for youth services and YOTs on gender-specific practice.
  • YOTs and probation services should work in close partnership with voluntary sector services working with gangs to create engaging and safe spaces and services for highly vulnerable young women.

What you can do - commissioning

  • All local authorities with responsibility for conducting Joint Strategic Needs Assessments should identify the number of young people involved in gang activity or who are at risk of it and develop multi-agency strategies to address these risks.
  • Health, social care, education and justice commissioners should all recognise gang membership as a marker for particularly pervasive negative outcomes for young people and communities and take collective action to gather data on prevalence, prevent risk and support those who are involved to exit safely.
  • Local Safeguarding Boards should actively monitor and review local prevalence information on gang activity and membership.

What you can do - in practice

  • All services in regular contact with young people and families should recognise the toxic and undermining impact of both multiple risk factors and prolonged exposure to risk for children’s healthy development.
  • All services in contact with young people should routinely talk to them about whether and how they are affected by gang activity in their communities.