Skip to content
  • Blog
  • 26th Jan 2024

From Statistics to Solutions: The Urgency of Youth Violence Prevention

Tom McBride, director of the Ending Youth Violence Lab, sets out his thoughts on recent developments in understanding and tackling youth violence.

On Thursday the Youth Justice Board (YJB) released its annual youth justice statistics. There are some positives to take from this data, most notably the fall in the average number of children in custody at any one time, which at 440 is the lowest number on record. Meanwhile  the number of proven offences by children are less than half what they were a decade ago. But overall the report paints a troubling picture of youth violence, with nearly 3,400 knife and offensive weapon incidents committed by children (a fall of 4% compared with the previous year, though 23% higher than ten years ago), a rise in violence against the person offences and an increase in arrests of children and reoffending rates. Alongside this there was a 34% increase in incidents of self-harm by those in custody. 

At the Ending Youth Violence Lab we’re working to transform our understanding of what drives youth violence and how we can better support some of the most vulnerable children in the UK. As a rule we avoid sensationalising what is a complex issue but at the same time it’s impossible not to be deeply concerned by these statistics. Too many lives are cut short through violence, and as a London resident I am all too aware of the frequency of serious youth violence and the urgency of tackling this issue. 

Alongside the YJB statistics there were announcements this week from Sir Keir Starmer on how a Labour government would tackle knife crime.  This includes tougher sanctions for those caught carrying knives and selling them to under 18s, alongside a new Sure Start-style programme for teenagers, interventions to prevent young people carrying weapons (including parenting and school interventions), and bespoke action plans for every offender.  As Sir Keir said, alongside tougher sanctions it is critical that we “give young people real support to achieve their potential and stay on track”. 

There are many parallels here with the work I lead at the Ending Youth Violence Lab. Whilst restricting the supply of dangerous weapons and tougher sentences seem like a sensible starting point, it would be naive to think that this alone will address the problem. We need to tackle the underlying reasons why young people carry and use weapons, taking a public health approach to prevention and early intervention. And we need to ensure that the approaches we use are effective. We are proud to be working with our partners at the Youth Endowment Fund to develop and test new approaches. So beyond well-meaning intentions, what can we actually do based on the evidence? Here are some of the most promising projects we’re working on which we think have real potential to turn the tide on youth violence

  • GenPMTO – A well evidenced parenting programme from the US which aims to improve parental strategies and approaches to discipline and to improve children’s behaviour in the shorter-term, and in the longer-term to prevent antisocial, offending and criminal behaviour, reduce school exclusions and improve academic performance. We are bringing the programme to the UK for the first time, adapting it for delivery here and testing if it can support better outcomes for young people. 
  • Face it – A promising social and emotional intervention delivered by therapeutically trained facilitators to young people in schools. The programme uses techniques like storytelling, art, debating, and role-play to support young people at risk of school exclusion. We are conducting a pilot trial with 10 cohorts of young people across 5 schools to understand if a full scale Randomised Control Trial would be possible.
  • Summer Jobs – Providing young people with short-term paid employment during the summer break from education is common in the US. There is promising evidence of the impact this can have on a range of outcomes, including youth violence. The Lab will be working as the co-design partner and evaluator for the first stage of a three year programme to set-up and evaluate a similar approach in the UK for the first time.

We don’t think programmes and interventions alone are the solution to youth violence, and we agree with academics Luke Billingham and Keir Irwin Rogers when they call for a holistic and multifaceted approach.  As we set out in our strategy, much more research is needed on the structural factors that leave young people vulnerable to violence, as well as more evaluation of other forms of support such as practice models and system level interventions We passionately believe that evidence on whether interventions work to support young people at risk of violence has to be part of the solution and we hope that whatever the outcome of the general election, the government will treat knife crime with the seriousness it deserves, which includes testing and evaluating approaches to tackling it.