ArticlePDF Available

Prevention and Reduction: A review of strategies for intervening early to prevent or reduce youth crime and anti-social behaviour


Abstract and Figures

This review is aimed at providing a comprehensive understanding of the key characteristics of ‘what works’ in terms of early interventions to prevent or reduce youth crime or anti-social behaviour. By drawing on evidence from the international literature, primarily the US where the evidence base is especially strong, we are able to provide a critical evaluation of youth crime interventions in England, where the scientific evidence is less robust. This collation of the best evidence and expert opinion will support the development of the strongest and most promising approaches. At the same time we identify gaps in the evidence and make recommendations for further research. This report consists of two separate although interrelated parts. The first examines the international evidence, predominantly from the US, where the extent and quality of evidence is especially strong. Here we review some of the primary evaluative literature examining the evaluations of specific interventions, but for the most part the review draws heavily on the reviews or meta-analysis of other authors. The second part focuses specifically on current or recent policy in England, examining evaluations that have been carried out here. Although these are fewer in number and some significant investigations will not conclude until later this year, there is nevertheless a steadily growing literature examining the effectiveness of recent Government policy in this area.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Research Report DFE-RR111
Prevention and Reduction:
A review of strategies for
intervening early to
prevent or reduce youth
crime and anti-social
Andy Ross, Kathryn Duckworth, David J.
Smith, Gill Wyness and Ingrid Schoon
Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions
This research report was commissioned before the new UK Government took
office on 11 May 2010. As a result the content may not reflect current
Government policy and may make reference to the Department for Children,
Schools and Families (DCSF) which has now been replaced by the Department
for Education (DFE).
The views expressed in this report are the authors’ and do not necessarily
reflect those of the Department for Education.
Executivesummary ..................................................................................2
1.Introduction ....................................................................................9
1.1Background .............................................................................................................................9
1.2Boundariestothereview...................................................................................................... 11
1.3Thelogicofprevention .........................................................................................................12
1.4Qualityofevidence ...............................................................................................................14
2.Internationalevidence ..................................................................17
2.1Introduction ..........................................................................................................................17
2.2Previousresearch.................................................................................................................. 17
2.3Individualfocusedprevention ..............................................................................................20
2.4Familyfocusedprevention.................................................................................................... 21
2.5Schoolfocusedprevention ...................................................................................................29
2.6Preventioninthecommunitysetting ...................................................................................32
2.7Whatdoesn’twork?.............................................................................................................. 35
3.1Anoverviewoftheyouthcrimepreventionlandscape........................................................ 37
3.3Schoolbasedprogrammes ...................................................................................................48
3.4Communityandneighbourhoodbasedearlyinterventioninitiatives .................................52
4.KeythemesemergingfromtheUK ...............................................58
4.2Targetingthetargeted ..........................................................................................................61
6.1Finalthoughts .......................................................................................................................72
6.2Theyouthcrimelandscape:Panaceaorpatchwork? ...........................................................73
7.Bibliography ..................................................................................76
This review is aimed at providing a comprehensive understanding of the key
characteristics of ‘what works’ in terms of early interventions to prevent or reduce
youth crime or anti-social behaviour. By drawing on evidence from the international
literature, primarily the US where the evidence base is especially strong, we are able
to provide a critical evaluation of youth crime interventions in England, where the
scientific evidence is less robust. This collation of the best evidence and expert
opinion will support the development of the strongest and most promising
approaches. At the same time we identify gaps in the evidence and make
recommendations for further research.
This report consists of two separate although interrelated parts. The first examines
the international evidence, predominantly from the US, where the extent and quality
of evidence is especially strong. Here we review some of the primary evaluative
literature examining the evaluations of specific interventions, but for the most part the
review draws heavily on the reviews or meta-analysis of other authors. The second
part focuses specifically on current or recent policy in England, examining
evaluations that have been carried out here. Although these are fewer in number and
some significant investigations will not conclude until later this year, there is
nevertheless a steadily growing literature examining the effectiveness of recent
Government policy in this area.
The approach enables us to gain a better understanding of the types and
characteristics of effective early intervention from the international literature, which
we then apply to England to make a critical evaluation of policy where the quality of
evidence sometimes falls short. The ultimate result of both parts is a greater
understanding of both the types and characteristics of early interventions that work in
reducing and preventing youth crime and anti-social behaviour.
We are not here concerned with programmes that target infants and very young
children with the aim of improving outcomes on a whole range of dimensions: those
have already been discussed in the Allen review. Instead, we are concerned with
programmes and practices for which the primary aim is to have an impact on the
development of antisocial and criminal behaviour in young people aged 8 and above.
Quality of evidence
Pivotal to any review of interventions aimed at changing young people’s behaviour is
the quality of the evidence used to assess whether these interventions do in fact
work. The interventions and characteristics of interventions that are presented as
working in this review are based on the most scientific and rigorous methods of
evaluation. In order to be considered as working, these programmes have been
shown to work in at least two evaluations which incorporate a well defined control
group to test what would have happened if there had been no intervention, with a
very similar group of individuals.
International evidence
In a broad ranging meta-analysis examining interventions for reducing youth
reoffending, four key characteristics were associated with programme effectiveness:
The methods used to evaluate early intervention programmes. Generally this is a
forewarning against reliance on poorly designed evaluations which tend to overstate
programme effectiveness.
The Intervention type and mode. Interventions that embody ‘therapeutic’ philosophies
aimed at nurturing a positive change in young people, and in particular those
employing cognitive behavioural techniques, are the most effective overall. Those
based on strategies of control or coercion – on surveillance, deterrence, and
discipline – are far less effective and in some cases can actually make matters
Quality of programme implementation. This was so important that a less effective but
well implemented programme could out-perform a more effective programme that
was poorly implemented.
The characteristics of the juveniles being treated. Interventions targeted at individuals
already manifesting problematic behaviours or demonstrating many of the risk factors
associated with the development of offending behaviour are more effective than
universally applied programmes.
There is evidence that programmes which employ a multi-modal design where a
broad range of interventions are applied attending to a multitude of different risk
factors are more effective. However they only work where there is also a dedicated
case worker present to oversee and coordinate programme delivery.
Most of the interventions that have been shown to be effective share most (if not all)
of the characteristics identified above. Among programmes aimed at the individual,
one type of programme stood out as effective:
Child skills training which aims to teach children social, emotional, and cognitive
competence by addressing appropriate effective problem solving, anger
management and emotion language.
Best Practice: Child skills training is especially effective when applied to smaller
(more manageable) class sizes, employs cognitive behavioural techniques of
instruction and is targeted at older and high risk young people.
Within family focused prevention, the following programmes were found to be
Behavioural parent training (BPT) which teaches parents to be consistent in
reinforcing helpful behaviour and punishing or ignoring hostile or unco-operative
Best practice: BPT is more effective in smaller (more manageable) class sizes, and
when aimed at parents of older young children (approximately aged 10 and above).
Multisystemic therapy (MST) which is an intensive, individualised, home-based
therapeutic intervention for high risk juveniles. Depending on the young person’s
needs MST could include child skills training, parenting training, measures aimed at
reducing a young person’s association with deviant peers, and measures for
improving academic performance and attachment to school.
Best practice: There is evidence of increased effectiveness when there is strong
adherence to the original programme design.
Family Functional Therapy (FFT) is a clinic-based intervention that includes three
therapeutic stages: first, an engagement and motivation phase in which reframing
techniques are used to reduce maladaptive perceptions, beliefs and emotions within
the family. This then creates the context for a second phase employing behavioural
change techniques. Finally there is a ‘generalisations’ phase in which families are
taught to apply the learnt skills in various contexts (the school, the justice system, the
Best practice: Programme effects were only evident where there was strong
adherence to the original design.
Multi-Dimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC). Young people are placed in
short-term foster homes where they receive individual therapy and behavioural
coaching similar to child skills training. At the same time their parents (or guardians)
receive weekly family therapy in which they are taught effective parenting and family
management techniques.
Effective school based programmes tend to be those aimed at changing the school
environment as opposed to interventions that focus on changing the individual alone.
This includes:
The reorganisation of grades or classes to group together high-risk or disruptive
pupils for periods of the school day, while teaching them with alternative curriculum
material and using cognitive behavioural techniques.
Classroom or instruction management interventions emphasising interactive
instructional methods using cognitive behavioural techniques.
School discipline and management strategies, particularly those which draw on
teams of staff and members of the local community to change the decision-making
process or authority structures of the school in order to enhance its general capacity.
Within the community, both mentoring and after school recreation programmes were
identified as promising.
Mentoring typically involves a non-professional drawn from the community spending
time with an at risk young person in a non-judgemental, supportive capacity whilst
also acting as a role model.
Best practice: Mentoring is more effective when applied as part of a programme of
interventions, where meetings are at least once a week and five or more hours in
duration with an emphasis on emotional support, and where the mentor is motivated
by professional advancement.
After school recreation offers young people the opportunity to engage in and learn
skills in a range of activities including non-academic ones.
Best practice: Only effective if the programme is highly structured and includes
proper supervision.
Interventions that do not work or are less effective include:
Interventions focused primarily on coercion or control, i.e. surveillance, deterrence or
Military-style boot camps
Individual counselling (not based on cognitive behavioural techniques)
Unstructured life skills training
Community service activities
Gun buyback programs
Short-term non-residential training programs, summer jobs or subsidised work
Any programme that groups high risk students together in the absence of a
structured programme is associated with increased levels of delinquency.
Tackling youth crime in England
The good news is that across the youth crime landscape in England, there is little
evidence of the employment of interventions that are shown not to work (although
this has happened in some cases). What is more, the majority of interventions in
England use programmes that have been tried and tested, or are similar to
programmes proven to be effective, or else they comprise many of the
characteristics of interventions shown to be effective in the international literature. In
some cases this amounts to the wholesale implementation of US-developed-and-
evaluated programmes (MST, FFT and MTFC (including Intensive Fostering, a
variation on MTFC with young offenders)). Moreover, as part of their implementation
in the UK, steps are also being taken to ensure programme fidelity, including the
monitoring of programme delivery to alleviate any fall in programme quality.
Without replicating US programmes, a number of other interventions have many of
the characteristics of programmes demonstrated to be effective. For example:
The persistent Young Offender Project (PYOP) in Portsmouth is a multi-modal
programme targeted at high risk youths that incorporates child skills training,
mentoring in conjunction with other services, cognitive behavioural therapy, and non-
academic activities enabling young people the opportunity to express competencies
in other areas
Intensive Supervision and Support Programmes (ISSPs) designed for persistent
young offenders and used as part of community-based rather than custody-based
sentences, is a multi-modal approach that includes family group conferences,
individual mentoring and skill building
Youth Inclusion and Support Panels (YISPs) also employ a multi-modal design and
target young people already engaging in youth offending. The programmes include
family group conferencing, parenting support and mentoring coordinated by a
dedicated key worker
Although there are few explicit school-based programmes primarily aimed at
reducing youth crime and antisocial behaviour in England, the strategies that are
employed represent a whole-school approach to tackling behaviour and discipline,
aimed at affecting change to the school environment through authority structures and
decision-making processes. Certain specific activities may also lead to positive gains
in these areas. SEAL, for example, is a good example of an effective child skills
training programme.
However, some well-intended programmes have the characteristics of interventions
that are known to be ineffective.
Youth Inclusion Panels (YIPs), for example, employ skills training that lack the social,
emotional and cognitive focus of effective child skills training programmes. In addition
the mentoring offered as part of this intervention reflects a simple role-model based
approach as opposed to the intensive mentoring shown to be effective in the
international literature
Safer school partnerships involve the embedding of a police officer in schools giving
the approach surveillance undertones, a factor that has also raised concerns
regarding the stigmatising of particular schools
After School Patrols are based solely on deterrence and involve situating police
officers on problematic bus routes and interchanges. According to the international
literature, they are unlikely to be effective in preventing or reducing young people’s
long term engagement in youth crime or antisocial behaviour.
Implementation and going to scale
A fair number of well-defined early intervention programmes have by now been
shown to work, and others are currently being evaluated in England, but they are
only reaching a tiny fraction of the population of young people who are at risk. The
next problem is how to implement successful early intervention programmes on a
much larger scale. Going to scale is extremely difficult, because programmes tend to
be diluted once the original band of enthusiasts is no longer directly involved in
implementing them. Not only are effective programmes needed, but also effective
strategies for delivering them on a wider scale.
Probably the most developed plan for achieving this aim is offered by the
Communities that Care (CTC) model. Local decision making bodies drawn from the
community are given special training and choose the prevention programmes from a
list of those that have demonstrated effects on risk or protective factors and problem
behaviours in at least one study using a strong research design. The processes of
monitoring, supervision and reporting are structured so as to facilitate a two-way flow
of information between those delivering the service, their supervisors, the
coordinators belonging to Communities that Care, and a Social Development
Research Group at a university. In short, this model gives ownership of prevention
programmes to local coalitions, and by providing strong support, guidance, and
monitoring aims to ensure that they choose effective interventions and implement
them well.
Improving the quality of evaluations in England
By drawing on evidence from the international literature, primarily the US, we are
able to provide a critical evaluation of youth crime interventions in England, where
the scientific evidence is less robust. But relying solely on US evaluations is not good
enough, since conditions and cultures are significantly different in Britain and the US.
More should be done to improve the general quality of evaluations carried out in the
UK. There are good examples where best practice has been applied to UK
evaluations. The aim is to try and ensure that all future evaluations meet with these
same high standards, so that:
Care is taken to ensure that evaluations include a suitable comparison or control in
order to enable proper assessment of whether observed changes were due to
participation in a treatment programme or were simply due to other factors
Programme evaluations should be replicated so we can establish which components
of a programme contribute the most to overall effectiveness and for which types of
people, under what circumstances, the service works best
Studies should measure objective, quantifiable outcomes of youth crime and
antisocial behaviour, and other variables of interest before and after programme
The data gathered also needs to be subtle enough to capture changes in the
frequency and severity of offending and not just its presence or absence in order to
pick up the small changes that are often characteristic of interventions to reduce
Future evaluations should be designed to measure the sustainability of outcomes
that are attributable to an intervention by conducting follow up studies over longer
Finally, they should be amenable to rigorous cost-benefit analysis enabling us to
develop a far better understanding of the differential costs and benefits associated
with selecting different suites of interventions.
1. Introduction
This review is aimed at providing a comprehensive understanding of the key
characteristics of ‘what works’ in terms of early interventions to prevent or reduce
youth crime or anti-social behaviour. By drawing on evidence from the international
literature, primarily the US where the evidence base is especially strong, we are able
to provide a critical evaluation of youth crime interventions in the UK, where the
scientific evidence is less robust. This collation of the best evidence and expert
opinion will support the development of the strongest and most promising
approaches. At the same time we identify gaps in the evidence and make
recommendations for further research.
In January of this year, Graham Allen MP produced the first of two reports for the
government on Early Intervention: The Next Steps (Allen, 2011). The Allen review
focuses primarily on interventions with children aged 0-3 and their families to
promote social and emotional development. There is good evidence that such
programmes, often targeting at-risk families in areas of deprivation and having
necessarily broad objectives, can produce a range of benefits. Among many other
outcomes, they can reduce the risk that young children will later develop antisocial
and criminal behaviour. We strongly endorse the policy of encouraging the growth of
well-founded early intervention programmes of this kind.
However successful these broadly-based early interventions with very young
children may be, there will still unfortunately be young people who become involved
in crime and antisocial behaviour as they get older. Not withstanding this point, the
Government’s Early Intervention Grants are not limited to early years but include in
scope local authority activities with older young people who are at risk or already
involved in offending behaviour. Therefore, as a complement to the Allen review, the
present report focuses on programmes that aim to prevent the development of
criminal and antisocial behaviour in children and adolescents aged 8 or more, or
which aim to prevent a pattern of antisocial or criminal behaviour from becoming
1.1 Background
There have been a number of recent publications highlighting some of the inherent
failures of the current system for dealing with youth crime and anti-social behaviour
in England (Chambers et al, 2009; Independent commission, 2010; New Economics
Foundation, 2010; Smith, 2010). Most notable are concerns regarding the levels of
expenditure on enforcement, courts and the use of prisons (New Economics
Foundation, 2010). Despite a recent fall in youth imprisonment it still remains
substantially higher than 20 years ago although crime has fallen substantially over
the same period (Pople and Smith, 2010). Also, youth imprisonment is much higher
in England and Wales than in comparable countries such as Germany or France.
Custodial sentences are costly; it is estimated that it costs the tax payer in excess of
£140,000 a year to place a young person in a secure unit (New Economics
Foundation, 2010)1. More importantly, it is an approach which does not appear to be
working, 75 percent of young people on completion of a custodial sentence go on to
reoffend the following year (Independent Commission, 2010). Of course custody
should retain its function to protect the public from the more severe and prolific
young offenders. However, there are a broad a range of alternative and scientifically
proven effective ways of dealing with many of the less severe offences for which a
custodial sentence would not be warranted. Moreover, there are strong arguments
for intervening earlier, before offending behaviour becomes serious or entrenched,
leading to extensive contact with the criminal justice system (Smith, 2010).
There are a broad set of early intervention programmes currently operating in the UK
that are aimed at doing just that. At one end of the scale, Youth Inclusion and
Support Panels (YISPs) work with a very specific set of young people who are at
high risk of offending and antisocial behaviour through a range of tailored
interventions including family group conferencing and parenting support, coordinated
by a dedicated key worker. At the other end of the scale are universal programmes
such as After School Patrols, an area-based initiative designed to tackle antisocial
behaviour and disorder at school closing times by placing police on problematic bus
routes, outside of schools and at transport interchanges.
The question is whether these approaches are actually effective for preventing or
reducing youth crime and/or antisocial behaviour. A number of evaluations are
recently or currently being undertaken by academic and research institutions
throughout the UK, and as part of this review we examine this literature and provide
early indications of which interventions are, or are likely to be, successful. Overall,
however, the UK lacks a strong evidence base. In order to understand what works to
reduce and prevent youth crime, we are required to look further afield and draw on
evidence from abroad.
This report therefore consists of two separate although interrelated parts. The first
examines the international evidence, predominantly from the US, where the extent
and quality of evidence is especially strong. In 1996, a federal law was passed in the
US making mandatory the independent review of the effectiveness of State and local
crime prevention assistance programmes funded by the Department of Justice, with
a special emphasis on factors that relate to juvenile crime (Sherman et al., 1998).
The law also required that the review employ rigorous and scientifically recognised
standards and methodologies. This enforced drive has led to a fast growing literature
on what works and what doesn’t in preventing or reducing youth crime and anti-
social behaviour in the US.
In the first section we review this work, providing a synthesis of expert opinion and
evidence. We review some of the primary evaluative literature examining the
evaluations of specific interventions, but for the most part the review draws heavily
on the reviews or meta-analysis of other authors, reporting findings from, for
example: Preventing youth crime: evidence and opportunities (Hawkin et al., 2010);
Saving children from a life of crime (Farrington and Welsh, 2007); and Evidence
based crime prevention (Sherman et al., 2002).
The second part focuses specifically on current or recent policy in the UK, examining
evaluations that have been carried out here. These are fewer in number and some
significant investigations will not conclude until later this year. Nevertheless there is a
steadily growing literature examining the effectiveness of recent Government policy
in this area.
This overall approach enables us to gain a better understanding of the types and
characteristics of effective early intervention from the international literature, which
we then apply to the UK to make a critical evaluation of UK policy if and where the
quality of evidence falls short. Therefore, where there is evidence of practices being
implemented in the UK which have not been rigorously evaluated using robust
scientific methods, we are able to make an informed judgement of their likely
effectiveness. The ultimate result of both these strands is a greater understanding of
both the types and characteristics of early interventions that work in reducing and
preventing youth crime and anti-social behaviour. A document, which should be of
great practical benefit to practitioners and front line staff, echoing a call in a recent
Ministry of Justice green paper for greater evidence based practice (MoJ, 2010).
Finally, this report develops a recurring theme in both UK and international writings
about prevention: the problems of implementation and the importance of programme
fidelity. We will discuss and analyse the whole process of developing and
implementing evidenced-based programmes, using the example of the Communities
that Care project.
1.2 Boundariestothereview
As stated at the very beginning, we are not here concerned with programmes that
target infants and very young children with the aim of improving outcomes on a
whole range of dimensions: those have already been discussed in the Allen review
(2011). Instead, we are concerned with programmes and practices for which the
primary aim is to have an impact on the development of antisocial and criminal
behaviour in young people aged 8 and above. Age 8 onwards is the point at which
problematic behaviour associated with youth offending and anti-social behaviour
often begins to manifest itself (HM Government, 2008) and is therefore a target age
of programmes primarily aimed at their prevention or reduction.
Some of these programmes aim to prevent young people, especially those who are
most at risk, from offending in the first place. Others target young people who have
already shown signs of behaviour problems (e.g. who have truanted, been excluded
from school, or been arrested) before a pattern of criminal or antisocial behaviour
has become established; these programmes aim to prevent antisocial and criminal
behaviour from becoming serious and entrenched. In taking the prevention of
offending as their primary aim, these programmes are much more narrowly focused
than broader initiatives aimed at very young children, such as Sure Start and Family
Nurse Partnerships. In taking prevention as their sole aim, they are also quite distinct
from custodial sentencing.
Taking account of the devolved powers to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh
Assembly, and the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Parliament at Westminster is
responsible for education in England, for justice in England and Wales, and for
health in the UK. The initiatives described in this review can often straddle the
boundaries of responsibility between the ministries, making the situation yet more
complicated. In practice, though, most of the programmes that we cover have been
implemented in England, so we refer throughout to England rather than the UK.
Nevertheless, most, and probably all, of our conclusions would equally apply to the
whole of the UK.
1.3 Thelogicofprevention
There are two main ways in which interventions can prevent the development of
patterns of offending behaviour. The first is by addressing the risk factors that have
been shown to predict later offending and antisocial behaviour. The second is by
reinforcing protective factors that have been demonstrated to buffer young people
against criminal engagement.
Evidence that identifies risk and protective factors comes from a wealth of scientific
research, mostly based on longitudinal studies that track people as they grow from
infancy to adulthood, sometimes starting even prior to birth through interviews with
parents). Although this evidence is robust, since the many studies confirm each
other’s findings, the relationships are statistical. They show for example that where
there is family conflict children tend to engage in antisocial behaviour later. Yet not
all young people from conflicted families, or presenting other risk factors, will go on
to become offenders. Nevertheless interventions that are successful in reducing risk
factors for youth offending can have a significant impact on outcomes for young
Some of the influences on people reflect individual characteristics (for example,
character, temperament, intelligence) whereas others come from the smaller and
larger groups in which individuals move. Accordingly, risk and protective factors may
operate at the individual level, or at the level of immediate or wider groups such as
the family, the school and the local community2. Factors associated with the
development of criminal behaviour include:
¾ at the individual level
low intelligence (IQ)
low empathy
¾ within the family
poor family management (failure to set clear expectations for behaviour, poor
supervision or monitoring, inconsistent or harsh discipline)
family conflict
low income
poor housing
¾ at school
low achievement
attending disorganised schools
¾ at the level of the local community
living in deprived neighbourhoods
associating with delinquent peers
experiencing feelings of alienation.
In contrast, resilience, self-efficacy (believing that one can perform tasks
successfully), having a positive outlook, having a stable, warm, affectionate
relationship with one or both parents, bonds with teachers, other adults or peers who
hold positive attitudes and model pro-social behaviours have all been shown to be
protective factors (Youth Justice Board, 2005). These risk factors tend to be multiple
and are also associated with other poor and often interrelated outcomes such as
substance abuse or social exclusion.
Interventions that have a clear strategy for reducing risk factors and bolstering
protective factors tend to be most effective at reducing youth crime and antisocial
behaviour. For example, Behavioural Parent Training (BPT) teaches parents to be
consistent in reinforcing helpful behaviour and punishing or ignoring hostile or unco-
operative behaviour. This increases parents’ ability to establish a clear framework of
expectations for their child’s behaviour. It should work because unclear expectations
on the part of the child have been shown to be a risk factor for the development of
antisocial behaviour. Evaluations have shown that BPT does, in fact, reduce
antisocial behaviour, probably because it is based on a well-evidenced strategy.
In designing and choosing interventions, one of the first things to consider is the
population they are aimed at. In this respect there are broadly three types of
1. some interventions are universal (termed universal prevention);
2. others target individuals or neighbourhoods where the risk factors for
offending are relatively high (termed selective prevention);
3. others target individuals who have already shown signs of offending or
antisocial behaviour, or had brushes with the school authorities or with the
youth justice system (termed indicative prevention).
Targeting promises to make better use of resources, but always runs the risk of
stigmatising the people the programme is trying to help. Finding principles of
targeting that avoid stigmatisation is a problem to which we will return in later
sections of this review.
1.4 Qualityofevidence
Perhaps the most significant point to raise in any review of interventions is the critical
importance of good quality evaluation designs for testing programme effectiveness.
An intervention may in principle appear to address a broad range of risk factors
associated with the development of offending behaviour outlined above, however,
unless there is clear evidence demonstrating their effectiveness in the form of
scientifically robust research we cannot be certain that they do in fact work.
This point was made very clearly by the University of Maryland in an extensive
review of early intervention programmes for reducing youth crime and antisocial
behaviour in the US (Sherman et al., 2002). In the process of conducting the review
they developed a scientific methods scale designed to provide a rule of thumb for
assessing the quality of an evaluation that was easily understood by academics,
policy makers and practitioners alike (Farrington et al., 2002). This scale (see Figure
1.1) has been widely adopted. It is the one we will use to assess the studies both in
the US and in the UK.
Evidence provided by evaluations at the lower levels is so weak that it provides little
support for any conclusion about the effectiveness of the programme. The lowest
level of all is the simple correlation design (level 1) which merely records an
association between a programme and some measure of crime at single point in
time. For example, we might find a correlation between lower crime rates and the
presence of neighbourhood watch schemes, but from this we would be unable to
draw any conclusions on the impact of neighbourhood watch. This is because there
may be other, unmeasured, factors that contribute to this relationship. For example,
it is likely that these schemes will flourish in areas where there is also greater social
capital and community cohesion, factors that are associated with lower crime rates,
so it is impossible to ascertain whether neighbourhood watch in itself had any effect.
Level 1: Correlation between a prevention programme and a measure of crime at
one point in time
Level 2: Measures of crime before and after the programme, with no comparable
control condition
Level 3: Measures of crime before and after the programme in experimental and
comparable control units, controlling for other variables that influence crime
Level 4: Measures of crime before and after the programme in multiple experimental
and control units, controlling for other variables that influence crime
Level 5: Random assignment of programme and control conditions to units
A simple before and after test (Level 2), in which levels of crime are measured
before and after the programme, is only slightly stronger. The problem here is that
there is no control group of people who did not receive the intervention. Young
people are likely to be targeted for intervention at a time when their misbehaviour is
most obvious, so interventions are likely to be delivered after difficult behaviour has
reached its natural peak. Often therefore the target group’s misbehaviour would have
declined with or without the intervention. To get over that problem it is necessary to
compare the group that received the intervention with a similar group that did not
(the control group). As discussed in section 3, many UK evaluations unfortunately
lack a control group. This is all the more important because youth offending peaks by
the age of 18 then tends to decline steadily (Farrington, 1986). Level 2 evaluations
can often be measuring the natural decline in offending with age rather than the
effects of the programme.
Level 3 designs and above on the Maryland scale enable us to draw far more robust
conclusions about programme effectiveness. Level 3 involves the measurement of
behaviour before and after an intervention among those who received it and also in a
matched control group who did not. If crime declines more among those receiving
the intervention than in the control group, this constitutes good evidence that the
intervention had a real effect. Remaining problems stem from the fact that individuals
are not randomly assigned to the two groups. Although attempts can and should be
made to match the two groups on factors such as age, sex, level of prior offending,
and family background, some differences will remain, and such differences may
possibly help to explain differences in the outcomes for the two groups.
Level 4 overcomes these issues to some extent by making several comparisons
between experimental and control groups in different neighbourhoods and by
allowing in addition for the influence of contextual factors at the level of the
neighbourhood that are known to have an influence on offending. For example, this
might involve controlling for local levels of social capital and community cohesion in
an evaluation of neighbourhood watch schemes. However, the ‘gold standard’
design for assessing programme effectiveness is the randomised control trial (level
5). Only by randomly assigning individuals to experimental or control conditions can
we be certain that there is no systematic bias. Providing that the random assignment
has been fully and correctly implemented, it then becomes possible to produce an
accurate and reliable assessment of whether the programme made a difference and
how much difference it made.
The Maryland scale also makes a number of adjustments to allow for other features
of an evaluation that weaken the evidence, including inappropriate statistical
analysis, too small a sample size, a low response rate, a different drop-out rate for
experimental versus control groups (which causes bias) or the use of an invalid or
unreliable measure of the outcome. Each of these flaws downgrades the rating by
one level.
Interventions are then considered to work if positive outcomes have been
demonstrated in at least two level 3-5 evaluations with the majority of all remaining
evidence pointing to the same conclusion. One supportive level 3-5 evaluation
suggests an intervention is promising. All other programmes, including those
producing varied results, are categorised as unknown.
2. Internationalevidence
2.1 Introduction
There have been a number of good reviews of the evidence on the effectiveness of
various types of early interventions to prevent or reduce youth crime and anti-social
behaviour. Our report draws heavily on these and, in particular, on the reviews of
Lipsey (2009), Hawkins et al. (2010), Farrington and Welsh (2007), and Sherman et
al. (2002). Each review presents similar findings on the types of interventions that
are most effective. This widespread agreement among well-informed analysts lends
weight to the conclusions presented here3.
There have been a large number of programme evaluations in the US, so the
findings are hard to assimilate. To get over that problem, the best reviews have used
the techniques of meta-analysis. As the name implies, meta-analysis is a bundle of
techniques for carrying out a further analysis of the findings produced by the earlier
analyses of a large number of individual studies. It provides a systematic method of
collating findings from separate evaluations, comparing their findings, and drawing
out further conclusions from these comparisons. Meta-analysis provides a more
accurate measure of the effects of intervention by averaging across many studies.
Equally important, it allows us to compare the effectiveness of different types of
programme, and to show how particular characteristics of the programmes are
related to their effectiveness.
For each type of intervention that has proved effective, we also describe one or two
example programmes that exemplify good practice.
Our aim is to identify both the types and the characteristics of interventions that are
effective: in later sections, these results are then used to enhance our evaluation of
recent or current practice in the UK. Where little information is available from UK
evaluations, the international evidence should help policy makers decide whether a
particular UK programme is likely to be effective, depending on whether it fits one of
the types of interventions identified as effective below and encompasses many of the
characteristics shared by effective programmes.
2.2 Previousresearch
In one of the broadest meta-analyses of interventions for juvenile offenders to date,
Mark Lipsey (2009) has already begun to characterise some of the key factors that
contribute to programme effectiveness. The study, which was based on 548
independent sample studies from 361 primary research reports, identified four key
factors that were associated with the measured effectiveness of interventions for
juvenile offenders:
the study methods employed to evaluate the programme:
the type and mode of the intervention
the quality of programme implementation
the characteristics of the juveniles being treated.
There was a strong relationship between the methods of evaluation and the
intervention’s measured level of impact. In general, weaker study designs (anything
less than level 5 – randomised control trial) tend to overstate a programme’s
effectiveness (see also Aos et al., 2004). This emphasises the importance of
strengthening the design of UK evaluations. Although useful information can be
gleaned from studies that did not use randomised control trials, their results have to
be interpreted with caution.
Interventions that embody ‘therapeutic’ philosophies, such as counselling and skills
training, were far more effective than those based on strategies of control or
coercion, i.e. surveillance, deterrence, and discipline. In fact evidence suggests that
programmes that mainly focus on deterrence or discipline can actually have the
opposite effect and lead to an increase in offending behaviour. For example,
programmes that employ shock tactics, such as ‘scared straight’ programs, where
young offenders are taken to maximum security prisons and told of the horrors and
difficulties of life in prison by the inmates, have been linked with increased offending.
Counselling and skills training on the other hand, aimed at nurturing a positive
change in the young person’s lives, are associated with reduced levels of offending.
Skills training programmes are those that provide instruction, practice, incentives,
and other activities aimed at developing skills to help control behaviour and enhance
young people’s ability to participate in everyday pro-social activities. Among these,
programmes employing behavioural or cognitive behavioural techniques were
especially effective: they were associated with a 20 percent reduction in recidivism
on average, whereas job-related skills building programmes (which include
vocational counselling and training, and job placement) were much less effective,
associated with just a 6 percent reduction. Within counselling approaches, mentoring
and group counselling had the greatest effects overall (again associated with a 20
percent reduction in recidivism), whereas individual counselling, peer-orientated
counselling, and mixed counselling with referrals demonstrated much smaller effects.
Quality of implementation was found to be important to the extent that a well
implemented programme that is generally less effective can outperform a more
effective programme that has been poorly implemented (Lipsey, 2009). This sends
out a clear message regarding ambitions to take to scale programmes demonstrated
as working in small pilot studies. As discussed in more detail in section 5, rolling out
interventions on a national scale is one of the greatest difficulties facing policy
makers. The research findings highlight the importance of ensuring providers are
appropriately trained and supervised, that the process of programme delivery is
properly monitored to ensure fidelity to the original design, and that corrective action
is taken when quality falls off (Lipsey, 2009).
There was also a strong relationship between programme effectiveness and the
characteristics of the juveniles being treated. On average, programmes were more
effective when administered to high risk juveniles, as shown by their record of prior
offending. This finding, which recurs throughout this review, suggests that the
emphasis of prevention should be weighted towards young people who have already
demonstrated problematic behaviour. A clear benefit of targeted intervention is
increased efficiency and reduced costs. But this approach is also grounded in theory.
Andrews et al. (1990) argue that targeted interventions are more effective because
they respond to a greater need for treatment among the targeted populations.
Because the target groups have greater needs and are more at risk of offending in
future, they have greater room for improvement
In addition to the four key points outlined above, Lipsey’s research also identified an
enhanced effectiveness associated with multimodal designs, that is, interventions
that attend to multiple risk factors through the use of a variety of different approaches
within the same programmes. Given that these multimodal programmes combine a
number of different approaches it is perhaps not surprising that this significantly
increases their effectiveness. However this was only evident if the programme also
included a designated key worker to develop a service plan, arrange services and
monitor progress: otherwise the effects could be quite small (a 20 percent reduction
in recidivism when a key worker was present compared to just 3 percent reduction
otherwise). Curiously, the research found no relationship between the duration of
programmes (both at point of contact and the total duration of the programme) and
programme effectiveness.
The following are the key findings that emerge from this review of the evidence on
the types of programme that are most effective:
programmes should employ a therapeutic philosophy for changing young people’s
among ‘therapeutic’ programmes, those that use cognitive behavioural techniques
are especially likely to be successful;
programmes that focus mainly on discipline and deterrence are least likely to be
successful, and may in fact increase offending;
programmes that target high-risk populations are more likely to succeed than those
delivered to general populations, probably because among prior offenders and
These key findings from Lipsey’s meta-analysis lay the groundwork for the rest of our
review of the international evidence. The following sections discuss in greater detail
the interventions that work. As is usual when considering interventions in this field,
we divide them into those aimed at the individual, the family, the school, and the
wider community.
2.3 Individualfocusedprevention
Individual-focused prevention addresses risk factors such as low intelligence, low
school attainment, low empathy, impulsivity and hyperactivity. In a recent meta-
analysis, Farrington and Welsh (2007) identified just one type of individual-focused
programme shown to be effective relevant to the age category covered by this
review: child skills training.
Child skills training programmes are designed to directly teach children social,
emotional and cognitive competence by addressing appropriate social skills,
effective problem solving, anger management and emotion language (Farrington and
Welsh, 2007) an example of the skills-based therapeutic programmes identified as
effective by Lipsey. The effectiveness of Child skills training programmes was also
confirmed in a meta-analysis carried out by Losël and Beelmann (2003) in which 135
comparisons were examined between treated and untreated young people using
only randomised controlled trials. The programmes examined covered a broad age
range - the average age of the children ranged from 4 to 18. Typically the
programmes were short (up to ten sessions) and lasted between one and three
months. Cognitive behavioural approaches that address both problematic ways of
thinking and patterns of social behaviour were most frequent. The average effect for
this approach across three outcomes, including antisocial behaviour, social skills and
social-cognitive skills, was a 38 percent increased chance of improvement among
those treated. The positive effects of child skills training was also sustained over time
(albeit to a lesser degree) with a 28 percent increased chance of improvement 3
months later. Although the overall impact on antisocial behaviour was slightly lower
(26 percent and 22 percent respectively) than for the other two outcomes, Losël and
Beelmann are quick to point out that a single risk factor typically predicts only 20
percent of the variation in young people’s offending behaviour: therefore this finding
represents quite a substantial effect.
Losël and Beelmann’s study also examined the underlying characteristics of child
skills training programmes that were associated with improved effectiveness. These
The size of the class
Fidelity to the original programme design
The methods of instruction
The risk level of the young people
The age of the young people treated.
Programmes aimed at larger groups tended to be less effective than those working
with smaller groups of young people, a finding that was attributed to overall
programme quality, i.e. the difficulty of maintaining overall standards of quality and
programme fidelity with large group sizes. In a similar vein, there was increased
effectiveness among programmes delivered by the originators, by other research
staff or by their students, which was attributed to greater programme fidelity (i.e. only
those closely associated with the programme or researching it delivered it exactly as
intended, and when that was done, the programme was more effective). Larger
effects were also associated with programmes delivered using cognitive behavioural
techniques, those targeted at higher risk young people (in this case, young people
demonstrating multiple risk factors) and those treating young people aged 12 or
more. All of these findings, except the point relating to the age of young people
treated, confirm the conclusions outlined in section 2.2 above.
A good example of a successful programme of this kind is Life Skills Training,
developed and delivered by Botvin and Griffin (2001), in 41 New York City public and
parochial schools. The programme involved teaching pupils aged 11-12 a variety of
cognitive-behavioural skills for problem-solving and decision-making, resisting media
influences, managing stress and anxiety, communicating effectively, developing
healthy personal relationships, assertiveness skills, anger management and conflict
resolution skills. These were all taught using a combination of interactive teaching
techniques which included group discussion, demonstration, modelling, behavioural
rehearsal, feedback and reinforcement, and behavioural “homework” assignments
for out-of-class practice. Handouts were also provided to reinforce norms against
substance use and violence. Although this was a universal program, to the extent
that it was taught to all pupils aged 11-12, the schools consisted of largely
disadvantaged youth, making this a selective intervention.
The paper by Botvin and Griffin presents the findings of a randomised control trial in
which schools were randomly assigned to intervention or control groups (in control
schools, pupils were taught the standard health education curriculum). Significantly
greater reductions (up to 50 percent greater) were measured in verbal and physical
aggression and fighting, and delinquent behaviour 3 months after the intervention in
experimental compared with control schools. The programme also is also highly cost
effective, with estimated savings of $25.61 for every $1 dollar of investment (Aos et
al., 2004). Unfortunately no long term outcomes were measured.
2.4 Familyfocusedprevention
Family functioning and problems in the family home can have a significant impact on
whether a young person will become involved in crime and anti-social behaviour.
(Farrington, 2006). Effective family focused interventions therefore tend to be those
aimed at providing appropriate support to families in order that they can address
these issues. In general, these interventions target problems that include family
management (failure to set clear expectations for behaviour, poor supervision or
monitoring, and inconsistent or harsh discipline) as well as high levels of family
conflict (Farrington and Welsh, 2007).
In a meta-analysis of forty programmes covering six categories of family based
interventions, Farrington and Welsh (2003) found Behavioural Parent Training (BPT)
was the most effective type of intervention overall. BPT teaches parents to be
consistent in reinforcing good behaviour and punishing or ignoring bad behaviour, so
as to establish a clear framework of expectations. Two other types of intervention
were found to be effective: Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST), (a specific programme as
opposed to ‘type’ of intervention) and what Farrington and Welsh termed ‘Community
or home based programmes for older young people’, which encompasses two well-
known programmes that are found to be effective - Functional Family Therapy (FFT)
and Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC).
Farrington and Welsh’s findings are supported by another broad-ranging review of
family focused interventions. The programme Strengthening America’s Families
(Kumpfer, 1999) identified four types of family focused interventions as effective:
behavioural parent training; comprehensive family programmes (i.e. Multi-Systemic
Therapy); family therapy (i.e. Family Functional Therapy); and Family Skills Training
(an approach that includes both child skills training and behavioural parent training).
Behavioural Parent Training is premised on the idea that antisocial behaviour is
learned and sustained by positive and negative reinforcement that children receive
from others, especially their parents (Serketich and Dumas, 1996). The approach is
aimed at changing patterns of parental behaviour so that pro-social behaviours
receive positive reinforcement and negative behaviours are punished or ignored.
Although this represents the core curriculum of effective BPT, the approach can also
include additional elements such as communication skills, problem solving skills,
speaking respectfully, assertive discipline, reinforcement to name just a few.
In a meta-analysis of 26 controlled studies, Serketich and Dumas (1996) found the
average child whose parents participated in BPT was better adjusted on clinical
instruments measuring behaviour than 80 percent of the children whose parents did
not participate. There were few suitable studies available making the task of
identifying the characteristics associated with improved effectiveness much more
difficult than it was for child skills training. Nevertheless they were able to isolate the
following characteristics as significant:
The size of the class
The age of the young people benefiting from the treatment.
The size of the classes was again attributed to the impact of programme quality and
adherence to the original design, with larger sized classes making effective
implementation more difficult. In addition, families with older children (the average
age was 10.1) tend to benefit most from BPT. A possible concern is the suggestion
by other narrative reviews (McMahon, 1981; Webster-Stratton, 1985) that BPT may
be less effective with families facing particularly adverse circumstances (e.g. where
mothers lack social support, suffer depression or experience marital conflict). It is
quite often those young people whose needs are greatest that are also the most
difficult to reach. As we will demonstrate in section 3.2, maintaining commitment has
also been a central challenge to the Family Intervention Projects (now known as
Intensive Family Interventions).
A good example of BPT is demonstrated in a study by Scott et al. (2001). Parents of
children aged 3 to 8 years who were referred for antisocial behaviour to their local
multidisciplinary child and adolescent mental health service were seen in small
groups for two hours each week over 13-16 weeks. In each session, they were
shown videotaped scenes of parents and children together, which depict "right" and
"wrong" ways of handling children. Parents discussed their own child's behaviour
and were supported while they practised alternative ways of managing it. Each week
tasks were set for parents to practise at home and telephone calls made to
encourage progress. The study which involved a randomised assignment of
participants to intervention or control (3 month waiting list) demonstrated the largest
effect size of BPT in the meta-analysis by Farrington and Welsh (2003) described
above. Although no cost benefit analysis has been conducted, the cost of the
programme is low at just £517 per child. Although this programme has so far been
delivered to a younger age group than that covered by the present review, it is likely
that with some adaptation a similar programme could be successfully delivered to
children aged 8-12.
The following three programs, which include Multi-Systemic Therapy (MST),
Functional Family Therapy (FFT) and Multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care
(MTFC), were originally developed for use with serious juvenile offenders. However,
they are now being applied more broadly as part of the process of intervening early
to prevent offending behaviour becoming serious and entrenched (Hawkins et al.,
2010), and as we discuss in section 3.2, are also currently being trialled in the UK.
MST (Henggeler, 1998) is an intensive, individualised, home-based therapeutic
intervention for high risk juveniles. Using the family as the starting point, MST
delivers comprehensive treatment tailored to individual needs, by addressing the key
predictors of antisocial behaviour, the sources of family conflict, and the adolescent's
functioning at school. It uses a mix of methods, which, depending on the young
person’s needs, could include child skills training, parenting training, distancing from
deviant peers, and measures for improving academic performance and attachment
to school. It enables interventions at the high level of intensity needed by young
people facing multiple risk factors. There is considerable emphasis on programme
fidelity, and significant resources are devoted to therapist training and ongoing
consultation with MST experts. Whilst the programme is intensive, it is relatively
short overall: 4 to 6 months. Long-term outcomes are achieved by changing the
underlying processes in the family, peer relations and leisure activities, which then
contribute to a generalisation of treatment . Although there is evidence that the
programme is effective (see below), it is also very costly. Nevertheless a cost benefit
analysis of the programme by Aos and colleagues (Aos et al., 2004) suggests $2.64
is saved for every $1 invested.
There are a number of well designed randomised clinical trials documenting the
success of MST in reducing youth crime. Nevertheless there is also conflicting
evidence, so that two recent meta-analyses have come to diametrically opposed
conclusions. Curtis et al. (2004) suggested that youths and their families treated with
MST were functioning better than controls; whereas Littell et al. (2009) claimed there
was no evidence to suggest that MST is more effective than other services. Many of
the evaluations have been carried out by the programme originators, which may
place a question mark over the objectivity of the reported findings. However the
presence of the originators, whether for research purposes or clinical supervision, is
also likely to increase programme fidelity, which as we have already discussed can
be critical for programme effectiveness. Curtis et al. (2004) suggested it can increase
effectiveness as much as three-fold.
In a recent independently randomised control trial of MST in Norway (Ogden and
Hagen, 2006), adolescents (average age 15) referred from municipal Child Welfare
services for serious behaviour problems received MST treatment whereas the
control group received regular institutional placement, placement in a crisis institution
for assessment and in-home follow-up, supervision by a social worker in their
homes, or other home-based treatments. Those receiving MST were much less likely
than the control group to be placed out of home after the intervention (72 percent vs.
55 percent), and more likely to score in the normal range on the Child Behaviour
Check List (38 percent vs. 21 percent). Similar positive results were also identified in
a two year follow up. The study evaluated the programme over four sites, each
maintaining varying degrees of programme fidelity. There was clear evidence of
improved effectiveness where there was greater programme fidelity.
FFT (Sexton and Alexander, 2003) is a clinic-based intervention designed to help
dysfunctional children aged 11 to 18. Whilst MST uses the family as a starting point,
broadening to encompass a wide range of interventions aimed at different spheres of
the young person’s life, FFT remains focused on the family, aiming to improve
behaviour by helping family members understand how their behaviour affects others.
FFT helps children and their families reduce defensive and aggressive
communication patterns and promote supportive interaction in the family. It also
addresses supervision and effective discipline. The hallmark of FFT is a programme
structure divided into stages. The first of these is an engagement and motivation
phase in which reframing techniques are used to reduce maladaptive perceptions,
beliefs and emotions within the family. This then creates a suitable context for phase
two, a programme of behavioural change techniques including, for example,
communication skills, basic parenting skills and conflict management. Finally there is
a ‘generalisations’ phase in which families are taught to apply the learnt skills in
various contexts (the school, the justice system, the community). Typically the
programme comprises about 8 – 12 sessions over a 3-4 month period although it
can be extended to as many as 30 sessions for more problematic cases.
FFT has been evaluated many times over the 40 years since it was first introduced.
In a recent evaluation (Sexton and Turner, 2010) juvenile offenders who had been
sentenced by a court to probation were randomly assigned to the FFT programme or
control, where the control group received standard probation consisting of weekly
checks, education and guidance. FFT was associated with a significant reduction in
felony (35 percent) and violent crimes (30 percent). Again, the programme was
evaluated over multiple sites with varying degrees of programme fidelity. Programme
effects were only evident where there was strong adherence to the original design. In
a cost benefit analysis of the program based on earlier evaluations, it was estimated
to save $7.69 for every $1 invested (Aos et al., 2004).
A somewhat different approach to family therapy is offered by Multi-Dimensional
Treatment Foster Care (MTFC) (Chamberlain, 2003). This programme removes the
young person from the family and places him or her in short-term foster homes
(usually lasting between 6 – 9 months). Young people receive individual therapy and
behavioural coaching to develop social skills including skills in problem-solving, and
emotion regulation. Attendance and performance at school is also monitored. At the
same time the parents or guardians of the child attend weekly family therapy in
which they are taught effective parenting and family management techniques. In a
recent trial which scores 5 on the Maryland scale (Chamberlain, 2007), girls aged
13-19 with chronic delinquency problems, mostly from low income, single parent,
and abusive households, were randomly assigned to the MTFC programme or to the
control group, which received community based group care. The girls who had
received the MTFC programme spent over 100 fewer days in locked settings during
the 2 years post intervention. A cost benefit analysis estimates that the programme
can save as much as $10.88 for every $1 invested (Aos et al., 2004).
There are a number of other examples of effective family focused interventions that
have been evaluated using rigorous scientific methods. In general, all reflect different
mixes and intensities of the same effective ingredients of the programmes outlined
above. For example, Parenting Wisely (Kacir and Gordon, 1997) is an example of
behavioural parent training which is self-administered using a CD ROM. Parents
view video scenes of common family problems, for which they choose a solution, see
it enacted and receive feedback for their selection. The programme covers
communication skills, problem solving skills, speaking respectfully, assertive
discipline, reinforcement, chore compliance, homework compliance, supervising
children hanging out with peers who are a bad influence, step-family problems,
single parent issues, violence, and others.
Strengthening Families Programme (Kumpfer et al., 1996) is an effective multi-modal
approach that combines child skills training, behavioural parent training, and
coaching in family skills, using cognitive behavioural methods in fourteen two hour
periods. Family skills training involves structured family activities, therapeutic child
play, family meetings, communication skills, effective discipline, reinforcing positive
behaviours in each other, and jointly planning family activities. Finally, the Australian
programme Teen Triple P (Ralph and Sanders, 2004) represents an interesting
example of an effective family intervention as it allows for different intensities of
intervention depending on the level of need, running from universal media
campaigns (e.g. a 13-episode television series on parenting and family survival
skills), through behavioural parenting training, to individually tailored home based
skills training, mood management and stress coping skills for parents, and marital
communication skills as required. All of these programmes have been demonstrated
as effective, further details are provided in the Appendix.
All of these family focused interventions attend to the family risk factors identified at
the beginning of this section. Behavioural Parent Training, MST, FFT and MTFC, in
addition to the programmes mentioned above are focused on changing maladaptive
patterns of behaviour or family dysfunction, employing cognitive behavioural
techniques to affect positive change. They are also targeted at young people already
manifesting problem behaviours or demonstrating many of the risk factors
associated with the development of offending behaviour. Apart from Behavioural
Parent Training, all of these interventions are multi-modal designs and in the case of
MST and MTFC they also assign a designated case worker to ensure effective
delivery of the various services. In short, these programmes work because they
contain the key characteristics of effective interventions that were listed in section
2.2 above.
Net benefit of program = (Expected outcome*associated financial reward) – programme cost
Discount reflecting age of young person and spread
of costs and benefits across time
2.5 Schoolfocusedprevention
From the publication of Fifteen Thousand Hours onwards (Rutter et al., 1979), there
has been growing evidence that school management and teaching practices have an
important influence on many aspects of learning and development, including
children’s behaviour. Nevertheless, the extensive research on school effectiveness is
largely outside the scope of this review, because it is primarily concerned with
outcomes connected with school subjects and intellectual skills. Here we focus on
school-based programmes for which preventing the development of crime and
antisocial behaviour was a primary aim.
The general aim behind such school based interventions is to increase young
people’s attachment to school and the importance they attribute to academic
achievement. Gottfredson and colleagues (Gottfredson et al., 2002) have worked
extensively in this area identifying the types and characteristics of school based
programmes that are the most effective for preventing or reducing youth crime or
anti-social behaviour, and claim that:
“Students who are impulsive, are weakly attached to their schools, have little
commitment to achieving educational goals, and whose moral beliefs in the
validity of conventional rules for behaviour are weak are more likely to engage
in crime than those who do not possess these characteristics”
Carrying out a broad ranging meta-analysis based on 165 experimental and quasi
experimental designs, involving 216 comparisons, Gottfredson et al. (Gottfredson et
al., 2001) examined the effectiveness of school based interventions across four main
outcomes: delinquency, alcohol/drug use, dropout/truancy, and other problem
behaviour. Overall eleven broad types of interventions were examined, four of which
are aimed at changing the school environment and seven focused on changing the
individual. Of these eleven, the following four were found to be effective in reducing
problematic behaviour:
The reorganisation of grades or classes;
the alteration of classroom or instruction management;
the alteration of school discipline or management;
instructional programmes that teach social competency skills using cognitive
behavioural methods.
The first three of these effective approaches are aimed at changing the school
environment. We describe all four approaches in more detail below and provide
The reorganisation of grades or classes may involve creating smaller groups, or
different mixes of students, or more flexible groupings, including regrouping high risk
or disruptive students for lessons for part of the day. This approach had the greatest
impact on delinquency overall, and was associated with a 17 percent reduction in
delinquency and a 24 percent reduction in alcohol or drug use. A good example is
Student training through urban strategies (STATUS) (Gottfredson, 1990), in which
high risk young people aged 13 to 15 were brought together for a two hour period
each day to receive an ‘integrated social studies and English program’. This involved
a law-related education curriculum, which aimed to familiarise students with US laws,
to develop an appreciation of the legal process, to encourage responsible political
participation, and to develop moral and ethical values together with analytical skills,
and which used an interactive approach to teaching emphasising student
participation. The programme lasted one academic year. A randomised control trial
of the programme was attempted but was unsuccessful leading to unmatched
experimental and control groups, giving the evaluation a Maryland score of 3.
Outcomes after the intervention included significantly lower rates of criminal activity
in experimental compared with control groups (18 percent) and reduced levels of
antisocial behaviour (12 percent).
This approach involves the use of instructional methods which increase student
participation in the learning process, as well as classroom management strategies,
for example the use of rewards and punishments contingent on behaviour (similar to
behavioural parent training). Overall, these kinds of strategies were associated with
a 10 percent reduction in delinquency and a 5 percent reduction in alcohol or drug
use. A good example of this type of approach was demonstrated by the Seattle
Social Development Project, which included proactive classroom management,
interactive teaching and cooperative learning. Proactive classroom management
involved establishing classroom routines at the beginning of the year that were
conducive to learning, including giving clear and explicit instructions for appropriate
pupil behaviour and recognising and rewarding attempts to comply, in addition to
strategies for minimising disruption. Interactive teaching involved using frequent
assessment, setting clear objectives, checking for understanding, and remediation.
Significantly, grades were determined by mastery and improvement over past
performance and not through comparison with other pupils. Cooperative learning
involved pupils of differing ability and background coming together to master
curriculum material and receive recognition as a team for their group’s performance.
Parent training in family management practices was also provided. Several
evaluations have been conducted with consistent positive effects on attachment and
commitment to school. The only well-designed evaluation (Maryland scientific scale
3) also found improved measures of aggressive behaviour in treatment groups
compared to controls (Hawkins et al., 1991).
School discipline and management interventions are those aimed at changing the
decision-making process or authority structures to enhance the general capacity of
the school. These interventions often involve teams of staff and sometimes parents,
students and community members engaging in and carrying out activities to improve
the school. Interventions of this kind were associated with an 8 per cent reduction in
delinquent behaviour overall. One of the best-known programmes of this kind is
Positive action through holistic education (PATHE). The programme involved teams
made up of school staff, students and community members in revising school
policies and designing and managing school change, along with training to aid
participation. Together, these teams changed disciplinary procedures, enhanced the
school programme with activities aimed at increasing achievement and created a
more positive school climate. For example, they developed a forum in which pupils
could constructively discuss topics of concern, which generated peer pressure to
resolve problems in a socially acceptable way. A further component of the
programme involves academic and counselling services for pupils for low achieving
or disruptive students.
An evaluation of the programme implemented in five middle schools and four high
schools in South Carolina (seven in a densely populated and depressed inner city
area, and two in an impoverished rural area) was carried out using a matched
controlled design (Maryland score 4) (Gottfredson, 1986). Results show that after
two years the programme was associated with an overall reduction of 16 per cent in
youth crime, 17 per cent in alcohol and other drug use, and an 8 per cent reduction
in anti-social behaviour measures. The programme also had a positive impact on
pupils’ attachment to the school. The component aimed at high risk pupils did not
decrease delinquent behaviour, but did increase commitment to education as
demonstrated by measures of drop out, retention, graduation and achievement test
scores. Unfortunately there has been no cost benefit analysis of this program.
Only one intervention directly aimed at the individual was found to be effective in a
school setting. Programmes that teach social competence skills using cognitive
behavioural methods were associated with a 5 percent reduction in delinquency and
an 11 percent reduction in dropout or truancy. This type of programme has already
been adequately described in the individual section as Child Skills Training; the
example quoted, Life Skills Training, is also often delivered in a school setting.
In summary, the most effective school focused prevention programmes are those
aimed at affecting wider, environmental changes to the school, as opposed to those
directly aimed at the individual. This can include the reorganisation of grades or
classes to group high risk or disruptive pupils for periods of the school day, teaching
them an alternative curriculum material using cognitive behavioural methods.
Providing proactive classroom management using disciplinary approaches similar to
those described in Behavioural Parent Training above, interactive styles of teaching
and cooperative team learning. But it can also include more broad reaching changes
to the school through the creation of teams of staff and members of the local
community to change the decision making process or authority structure. Despite
these very useful insights, further research is still needed to understand the principle
components of these types of interventions that are driving their effectiveness
(Gottfredson et al., 2002).
2.6 Preventioninthecommunitysetting
Successful interventions in the community setting are mostly ones that aim to help
child development by tackling risk factors or reinforcing protective factors. Others
aim to shape the situations that young people encounter so as to divert them from
criminal opportunities.
There is a general evidence gap in the quality of evaluations concerning
interventions in the community setting. According to the Maryland Scientific Scale
the programmes presented below are considered promising as they have just one
level 3-5 supporting evaluation, with the majority of all other evidence supporting
their effectiveness. There are two types of programme considered promising for
preventing or reducing youth crime or anti-social behaviour on this criterion:
mentoring and after school recreation.
Mentoring typically involves a non-professional drawn from the community spending
time with an at-risk young person in a non-judgemental, supportive capacity whilst
also acting as a role model (Welsh and Hoshi, 2002). The underlying philosophy for
mentoring is that young people need positive relationships with caring adults in order
to develop and thrive. For the majority of young people, this is provided by their
parents, but some young people can benefit from relationships with other adults as a
supplement, or in some cases, a substitute for relationships with their parents. The
idea is that mentoring should reduce offending both through direct assistance (e.g.
helping with homework, job applications) and indirectly (e.g. by acting as a positive
role model). Also, time spent with a mentor should also reduce opportunities to
engage in delinquent behaviour and help dislodge delinquent networks (Jolliffe and
Farrington, 2008).
Two recent meta-analyses came to different conclusions regarding the overall
effectiveness of mentoring programmes. Joliffe and Farrington (2008) found in a
meta-analysis that examined 18 comparisons between treatment and control groups
that mentoring contributed to a 4 – 10 percent reduction in reoffending. However, this
association was largely attributable to lower quality evaluations. More rigorously
designed evaluations did not identify any statistically significant positive effect. In
addition, mentoring was only found to be effective in conjunction with additional
services, especially education, employment or the drawing up of contracts of
acceptable behaviour. However, a meta-analysis carried out by Tolan and
colleagues (2009) came to more positive conclusions about the effectiveness of
mentoring, suggesting that it reduced delinquency by 12 percent, aggressive
behaviour by 20 percent, drug use by 6 percent, and improved academic
achievement by 7 percent.
Both studies claimed that descriptions of most mentoring programmes lacked the
detail required to guide future development and best practice. Nevertheless, the
review teams were able to draw some tentative conclusions regarding the
circumstances under which mentoring is most effective. Aside from the increased
effectiveness observed when mentoring was accompanied by additional services,
the following factors were also found significant:
type of support;
the motivations of the mentee; and
the level of risk that the young person would offend.
Mentoring is considered to be more effective when meetings are frequent (at least
once a week) and long (5 hours or more at a time), although interestingly, overall
programme duration was not significant. Effects were also larger when there was an
emphasis on emotional support and also where the mentor was motivated to
undertake this role as part of professional advancement. There was also evidence
that mentoring is more effective after preliminary contact with the criminal justice
system (i.e. following an arrest), rather than following a conviction or when offending
is more entrenched. However, these also tended to be higher quality mentoring
programmes making it impossible to determine whether the young person’s level of
risk was really the driving factor. One other critical finding from both studies is that
positive effects were limited to the period of contact with the mentor.
One of the best-known mentoring programmes for young people is the Big Brothers
Big Sisters programme of America (BBBS), the US programme which has been
running for over a century and is now exported throughout the world (although not as
yet to the UK). BBBS brings together unrelated pairs of adult volunteers and young
people aged 10 to 16. The prime goal is the development of a relationship that is
mutually satisfying, where both parties come together freely and on a regular basis.
Secondary goals, which are identified during an extensive interview between a case
manager, the child and parents or guardians, can include school attendance,
academic performance, relationships with other children and siblings, general
hygiene, learning new skills, or developing a hobby.
In a randomised control trial (Maryland scientific scale 5) 959 10 – 16 year olds, the
majority of whom were living in low-income, one-parent families with many also from
households with a prior history of family violence or substance abuse, were assigned
to BBBS or an 18 month waiting list (Tierney et al. 1995). The results suggest that
six months after the intervention young people participating in the programme were
46 percent less likely to initiate drug use, 27 percent less likely to initiate alcohol use,
32 percent less likely to hit someone, 50 percent less likely to skip school, felt more
competent about schoolwork and showed modest gains in grade point averages.
The programme has also been claimed to save $3.28 for every $1 invested (Aos et
al., 2004).
The study also includes an examination of the features of BBBS that contribute to its
success, and concluded that its effectiveness was attributable to:
the thorough screening of volunteers where uncommitted and unsafe volunteers
are weeded out;
through training that includes communication, time-limiting skills and tips on
interacting and relationship-building;
the careful matching of mentor and mentee; and
the intensive supervision and support provided by the case manager who gives
assistance as requested or as difficulties arise.
The other type of community focused intervention identified as promising is after
school recreation. After school recreation represents both situational prevention and
developmental prevention. In keeping with the maxim ‘idle hands are the devils
workshop’, after school recreation is assumed to reduce youth offending crime by
limiting the time that young people spend unsupervised with peers (Wikström et al.
2010). It also prevents young people who may struggle with school work from
developing low self-esteem and feeling alienated by providing them with the
opportunity to express competencies in other areas. However, the evidence presents
a potential drawback to after-school recreation which has contributed to its status as
‘promising’ as opposed to ‘working’ (Welsh and Hoshi, 2002). After school recreation
can also give delinquent young people the opportunity to meet with other delinquent
peers, which can lead to increased levels of criminal activity. The key to preventing
this situation seems to be ensuring that after school programmes are not simply a
place for young people to gather, but rather provide them with structured activities
which are appropriately supervised.
A good example of after school recreation is Participate and Learn Skills (PALS), a
programme implemented in a public housing estate in Ohio, Canada (Jones and
Offord, 1989). Children aged 5 – 15 from low income families were recruited to
participate in after school activities, such as sports, music, dance and scouting. The
programme aimed to advance children toward higher skill levels as well as integrate
them into activities in the wider community. It was hoped that this skill-development
programme would have a range of positive effects such as developing pro-social
attitudes and behaviours.
A control trial, in which a public housing estate was matched with a similar control
site (Maryland score 3), found that in the experimental site the monthly average
number of young people charged by the police was 80 percent lower than in the
control site after the intervention. Sixteen months later, the gap had reduced to
around 50 percent, suggesting that the effect was sustained, although not at the
initial level.
Another, more recent and also effective after school recreation programmes is LA’s
BEST After-school Enrichment. This programme has been offering a safe and
supervised after school education, enrichment and recreation programme for
children age 5 to 12 since 1988. It offers a broad range of activities including child
skills training, arts and sports, as well as more academically focused courses,
including basic skills and information technology. An evaluation found that 93
percent of young people who were both actively and intensively engaged in the
programme had avoided criminal records over a period of nine years, compared to
88 percent of a matched control group (Goldschmidt & Huang, 2007).4
2.7 Whatdoesn’twork?
We have described the interventions that are effective for reducing youth crime and
antisocial behaviour. But what of the interventions that do not work? It is equally
important to describe the kinds of intervention that are ineffective so that policy-
makers and practitioners are aware of what should be avoided.
We already noted in section 2.2 that programmes focused on control or coercion, i.e.
surveillance, deterrence, and discipline are among the least effective and in some
cases can make matters worse.
A broad class of interventions that have been found to be ineffective are ‘scared
straight’ programmes which aim to shock young people by showing the bad
consequences of becoming involved in crime. Chief among these are the
programmes that take young people to high security prisons where they can directly
observe the conditions of life there, and hear about them from some of the inmates
(Pestrosino, 2003). Broadly similar are drug prevention programmes that use fear
arousal techniques that dramatise the risks associated with drug use, and moral
approaches that preach to young people about the evils of drug use. These are
largely shown to be ineffective (Sherman et al., 1998). Similarly, ‘boot camps’ and
related programmes, which focus on discipline with little or nothing in the way of
structured rehabilitation, are found to be ineffective in reducing offending, or counter-
productive. It has been argued that all of these programmes involving shock tactics,
moralising, or pure discipline, fail because they do not attend to the needs and risk
factors that lead young people into offending (Sherman et al., 2002).
Yet there are also programmes that do appear to attend to young people’s needs yet
still have little or no positive effect. These include:
Individual counselling (not based on cognitive behavioural techniques)
Unstructured life skills training
Community service activities
Gun buyback programme
Short-term non-residential training programmes, summer jobs or subsidised work
It is difficult to find a credible and testable reason why individual counselling has little
effect. It has been suggested that this may relate to the minimal training associated
with this type of therapy. The ineffectiveness of unstructured skills training is relevant
to a broad range of interventions, and it reflects a common characteristic of
interventions that do not work and in some cases have a detrimental effect. These
programmes bring high-risk young people together so that they can influence each
other, in the absence of any structured programme to reduce offending; helping them
to associate with each other in this way tends to increase levels of offending. This
applies to unstructured skills training, but also to short-term non-residential training
programmes (which tend to be less structured than residential programmes) and
peer counselling (Sherman et al., 2002). Gun buyback programmes are ineffective
because they can often attract guns that are kept locked up in the home rather than
those carried on the street, and the money (which can often exceed the market value
of the gun) is often used to buy new and potentially more lethal weapons (Welsh and
Hoshi, 2002).
3. TacklingYouthCrimeinEngland
The overarching youth justice policy agenda in England has evolved considerably
over the last three decades and has been marked by several key historical events,
successive government reforms to policy and practice, changes to the youth justice
system, new and amended legislative powers and many other initiatives to address
crime and antisocial behaviour. It is, however, beyond the scope of this report to
chart this history.5 Instead we review how effective recent prevention and early
intervention policies are in reducing offending, antisocial behaviour and other
important outcomes for young people. This necessarily means that to have been
included, the interventions reviewed here must have been set up between the late
90s and the early part of the new millennium (i.e. under the previous administration).
They should not be seen as a reflection of the current administration’s view of youth
justice policy and practice.
3.1 Anoverviewoftheyouthcrimepreventionlandscape
The programmes reviewed in this section tend to have been designed with the
overarching aim of providing a flexible, tailored approach to the needs and problems
of individuals. This approach attempts to take into account the broad range of
underlying personal (low attainment, problematic behaviour, bullying), parenting
(inconsistent parenting, poor mental health, domestic violence) and family
(socioeconomic stress, poor neighbourhood conditions) risk factors involved in youth
offending and antisocial behaviour in an attempt to tackle emerging problems before
they become serious and entrenched.
The related set of early intervention programmes operating in England can be
categorised in a variety of ways (see Table 3.1). Some programmes focus on
specific populations: Intensive Family Interventions (previously known as FIPs) for
example work with the most challenging families to reduce antisocial behaviour,
youth crime and school absenteeism, while Intensive Supervision and Support
Programmes (ISSPs) concentrate on a small minority of individual persistent young
offenders aged between 15 and 17 who are responsible for a disproportionately
large number of offences.
Other programmes can be described in terms of the type of initiative (see column 2
in Table 3.1), such as a focus on positive activities (for example, Positive Activities
for Young People, Open Drive) or specifically targeting antisocial behaviour
(Challenge and Support projects), and others with respect to the broader approach
used (final column, Table 3.1): universal versus targeted-at-risk, area-based or
system reform.
5 See Graham (2010) for a recent review of youth justice policy and practice.
In practice, however, most youth crime early intervention programmes cut across
many of these different domains creating a landscape which is a complex set of
direct prevention interventions, diversionary activities coupled with enforcement
measures, and system reforms. These, in turn, operate across the pre-criminal
justice system, young people at-risk of offending as well as those already within the
justice system.
We focus here on those direct prevention interventions which, as outlined in section
1.2, have the reduction or prevention of youth crime/anti-social behaviour for older
children and young people as a primary aim. For simplicity, and in line with the
preceding section on the international evidence, we review early intervention
programmes operating in England in the areas of:
Individual-centred and family-based interventions6
School-focused intervention
Neighbourhood and community-based interventions
To help summarise the effectiveness of these programmes and compare the
evidence from here with that from the international literature, we have attempted to
apply the Maryland scale’s criteria to the evaluations conducted. Where an
evaluation falls short of providing rigorous, scientific evidence of a programme’s
effectiveness we draw on what we have learnt concerning the types and
characteristics of effective interventions from the international literature to make a
more pragmatic evaluation.
3.2 Individualcentredandfamilybasedinterventions
As we note in section 1.3 above, many of the risk factors associated with youth
offending and antisocial behaviour are individual or family-level characteristics and
this is reflected in the emphasis placed on these kinds of early intervention strategies
and their evaluations both here and internationally. Several of those currently
operating in England are directly based on programmes proven effective in the US
and elsewhere in reducing offending and antisocial/criminal behaviour. Others do not
adhere so rigidly to examples from the international evidence base but have clear
synergies in their overall design and/or share many of the characteristics shown to
be successful in reducing youth offending. This section begins by summarising those
UK early interventions already shown to be effective in the international evidence
base (Tables 2.1.1 – 2.1.3 give summary details of each programme. Further details
can be found in the Appendix).
Multi-systemic therapy (MST), Functional Family Therapy (FFT) and Multi-
dimensional Treatment Foster Care (MTFC, also known as Intensive Fostering or IF
in England when used with young offenders) all originate in the US where they have
been extensively evaluated and shown to work in reducing youth offending and are
now being implemented in England. Though the evaluations here are yet to fully
report, early findings from these studies show some similarly positive results. 7
As described in section 2.4 above, these programmes contain many of the key
characteristics that are associated with effective early intervention. For example,
they are multimodal approaches attending to risk factors within the individual, family,
school and the local community. They also use tried and tested methods of
behaviour change delivered using cognitive behavioural approaches, and are
targeted to young people considered high risk. As part of the process of
implementation in the UK, all three programmes also take steps to ensure they
adhere to the original design. (For further description of these programmes please
refer to section 2.4 or see the Appendix).
MST is currently running in ten sites across England8, involving approximately 700
families, and is the subject of an ongoing randomised control trial being conducted
by The Brandon Centre. This first UK RCT evaluation of MST follows 108 young
people aged between 13 and 16 years9 and their families who were assigned to a
group receiving either MST alongside the usual youth offending services (YOS) or
one receiving only YOS services between January 2004 and November 2009.
Follow-ups have been conducted at 6, 12, 24 and 36 months. Initial findings show
positive outcomes in terms of reduced offending, particularly for boys, and, in line
with the international evidence, appear to work well with various populations, here
holding across ethnicities.10
Combining cognitive-behavioural therapy to help young people to cope with their
problems and parents to address difficulties with their teenagers with specific skill
training for both young people and their parents, MST is also an example of a
programme which cuts across both individual and family-focused approaches.
Table 3.2.1: Summary table – MST, FFT and IF
FFT began its first trial in the UK in Brighton in 2007 and a randomised controlled
trial is currently being conducted by the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners
at the Institute of Psychiatry in partnership with Brighton and Hove Youth Offending
Services. The RCT will involve 100 families and focus on the effect of FFT on
offending, reoffending and antisocial behaviour. While both MST and FFT work with
families with children aged around 11-18 displaying antisocial, delinquent and /or
criminal behaviours, Intensive Fostering is targeted at serious and persistent young
offenders for whom the alternative would likely be custody or an Intensive
Supervision and Support Programmes (ISSP, see below for further detail).
Evaluation of the IF programme has indicated that young people in the IF sample
had lower rates of reoffending and that offences committed were less serious than
those in the comparison groups: on average, during the year after the IF placements
began, the comparison group were convicted for five times as many offences as the
IF group. However, in the year after the young people completed their IF placements
reconviction rates for the IF sample were at a similar level to the control group. Note
however, that the IF sample were more likely to be engaged in education or training
12 months later. The sustainability of outcomes also needs to be an integral feature
of programme effectiveness and is returned to in section 4.1. It is worth noting,
however, that such criticisms can also be applied to many of the international
MST, FFT and IF each adopt a multi-modal framework also highlighted in the
international section above as being a key characteristic associated with programme
effectiveness. That is they combine a number of different approaches, for example, a
variety of child skills training designed to improve social skills, effective problem-
solving and anger management alongside therapy for young people and their
families to reduce defensive and aggressive communication patterns and promote
supportive interaction in the family. Building on the success of such interventions,
several other initiatives in the UK, while not necessarily directly comparable to
examples in the international literature, adopt a similar delivery model, and contain
many of the characteristics identified as effective.
The Persistent Young Offender Project (PYOP) in Portsmouth and the surrounding
areas incorporates anger management and interpersonal skills training, group work
on antisocial behaviour and victim awareness with one-to-one mentoring for
reintegration into education, cognitive-behavioural therapy and individual
counselling, as well as team activities and outdoor activities. PYOP is therefore
clearly in line with international evidence which demonstrates the effectiveness of
child skills training, mentoring (when provided in conjunction with additional
services), cognitive-behavioural therapy, and non-academic activities providing
opportunities to express competencies in other areas. Independent evaluation of
PYOP (Nee & Ellis, 2005) including a matched control group, showed significant
reductions in the number of police charges with some young people ceasing to
reoffend completely. Improvements were also observed in relation to engagement
with education, family relations, emotional and personal problems, participation in
organised activity and ‘good use of time’.
Intensive Supervision and Support Programmes (ISSPs), similarly designed for
persistent young offenders and used as part of a community, rather than custodial,
based sentence, use a similar multi-modal approach including family group
conferences, individual mentoring and skill building, opportunities for reparation and
close supervision by police. ISSP is designed to bring structure to young people’s
lives, ensure that they make recompense for their offences, address the underlying
causes of the offending and put in place structures that will allow them to avoid
offending in the future by managing the risks and stabilising what is often a very
chaotic lifestyle. Again, the programme contains the elements of effective early
intervention programmes identified in the international evidence, i.e. ISSP is multi-
modal, and contains both mentoring and child skills training.
Evaluation of ISSP, while fairly robust, shows inconclusive results: one finding fewer
arrests and a lower arrest rate in the ISSP treatment group (Little et al., 2004); the
other no difference in either frequency or seriousness of offending between ISSP
and comparison groups (Waters et al., 2004; 2005) but some progress in areas such
as education, employment and family relationships. However, in line with the
international evidence which has observed larger effects for higher risk juveniles, in
the more scientifically rigorous of the two evaluations (Little et al., 2004) ISSP
appeared to work better with violent rather than non-violent offenders. Such findings
are particularly noteworthy since persistent and prolific offenders are a notoriously
hard to reach group (Youth Justice Board, 2005).
As in the international evidence cited above, these multi-modal regimes rely on a
designated case worker as a key component of their effectiveness to ensure that the
whole package of interventions works together. Families enrolled in Intensive Family
Interventions (previously referred to as Family Intervention Projects or FIPs, see
below) as well as those receiving support through Intensive Intervention Projects
(IIPs) and Youth Inclusion and Support Panels (YISPs, see neighbourhood and
community-based interventions below) are also supported by a dedicated key worker
who coordinates a suite of intensive, tailored actions and ensures that ongoing
assessment of needs and relevant follow-ups, such as the use of sanctions, are
carried out.
Intensive Family Interventions operate across multiple agencies, providing one-to-
one parenting support to help parents set boundaries for their children and a number
of outreach and floating support services to get vulnerable young people back in
school and improve their key skills. As in other examples described above, the key
worker plays a central role in commissioning or providing access to broader services
including therapy and family conferencing as appropriate. There is also considerable
variation in approach across the country and with different families. Essentially
though, Intensive Family Interventions lack the definition to assume the core multi-
modal delivery system in the programmes cited above. Similarly, while YOT
parenting programmes can include elements of family therapy in conjunction with
one-to-one support and the teaching of specific parenting skills, that a broad range of
interventions are not integral to its overall design suggests it is unlikely to yield the
same benefits of a more comprehensive multi-modal approach.
Intensive Family Interventions have been extensively evaluated and, on the whole,
show positive outcomes for families, including decreases in the proportion of families
involved in antisocial behaviour, declines in truancy and school exclusion, and
reduced family conflict. However, as with those of YOT parenting programme, these
evaluations are consistently limited to Level 2 on the Maryland Scale as they do not
contain an appropriate control group with which to compare outcomes. Concerns
have also been raised over the purposive sample designs and objectivity in the
measures used. We return to issues of evaluation quality in the UK – which as we
noted in section 1.4 is a key feature of whether a programme can be considered
‘working’ or not - in Section 4.1 below.
Table 3.2.2: Summary table – PYOP, ISSP and Intensive Family Interventions
There are several examples of potentially promising practice in the individual and
family-based prevention and early intervention initiatives currently operating in the
UK and many include characteristics associated with effective practice seen in the
international evidence. However, if we apply the rigorous criteria of the Maryland
Scale, no programme can be labelled as “working”.
In interpreting the UK evidence here, two further points should be considered. Firstly,
at the point when this review was finished and written up, there were several high
profile evaluations of UK programmes still to report including those on programmes
imported directly from the US as examples of proven practice, at least one of which
will involve a cost-benefit analysis and two of which are gold-standard randomised-
controlled trials. Early findings from these as yet unpublished studies indicate results
in the ‘right’ direction, but the final analyses are required to shift the effectiveness of
some of these programmes from ‘promising’ to ‘working’.
Secondly, attention should be drawn to the examples where the balance of
evaluations leans toward quantity rather than quality. The case of Intensive Family
Interventions (previously FIPs) is particularly relevant here: the programme has been
evaluated a number of times but the type of evaluation conducted, namely simple
before and after with no robust comparison (Level 2 on the Maryland Scale), limits
the strength of any conclusions regarding its overall impact or effectiveness.
Although some of the criticisms of the programme have been addressed in more
recent evaluation work, such as sample size and follow-up, none of the results thus
far can be used to assess quantitative impact as the design reports data from a
purposive sample only and does not contain a control group with which to compare
baseline characteristics or outcomes. Without such detail, judgements on value for
money simply cannot be made.
Finally, all of the evaluations included here would benefit from a greater
understanding of whether positive outcomes are sustained by the young people and
their families over time as well as detail on both the short-run cost-effectiveness of
individual interventions and the longer-term likely savings to society. As noted above,
however, this is also something that is also often missing from the international
Table 3.2.3: Summary table – YOT Parenting Programmes, IIPs, SFSC
3.3 Schoolbasedprogrammes
The UK has few explicitly focused school-based programmes designed to reduce
youth crime and antisocial behaviour. Of the two initiatives identified in this review
both adopt a universal rather than targeted approach. For example, the Safer School
Partnerships (SSPs) project attempts to tackle key behavioural issues such as
bullying, truancy, antisocial behaviour and offending across all pupils in the school.
Introduced in 2002, SSPs adopt a whole-school approach to behaviour and
discipline and involve the police and other support workers more proactively in
schools in order to promote safety and reduce victimisation, criminality and antisocial
SSPs are comparable to programmes in the US discussed above (see section 2.5) in
that they are aimed at affecting change to the school environment through authority
structures and/or decision-making process in schools. In addition, the programme
draws on the wider community, although in this case represented by the local police
force, which does, however, give the programme surveillance undertones. In the UK,
projects take various forms depending on how they are funded and the local police’s
schools' strategy. Three projects funded by YJB, for example, have a wholly
operational police officer and supporting team located f/t in a secondary school.
Other SSP models tend to include a more ‘light touch’ approach with one police
officer covering several schools and more intensive Behaviour and Education
Support Team11 approaches in which a police officer is part of a multi-agency
partnership attached to a cluster of schools. However, as with other universal
programmes, the lack of good baseline data on offending and safety in schools, here
at the school-level, limits the extent to which any evaluation can robustly assess the
impact SSPs have on reducing offending and antisocial behaviour.
Nevertheless, using a matched-control design, findings from the national evaluation
indicate that, in comparison with similar schools, those schools participating in the
SSP initiative had positive associations with respect to decreases in school
exclusions and truancy rates (Bowles, Garcia Reyes & Pradiptyo, 2005). The study
also included a small-scale cost-benefits analysis indicating positive net benefits of
the programme overall. However, in line with the international literature highlighting
that more intensive programmes, tend to have greater effects, these positive results
were shown to be stronger in the YJB schools than in the more light-touch ones. 12
Furthermore, the cost-benefit analysis was carried out using data from the three YJB
schools only and may, therefore, overestimate the impact that a rollout of the more
light touch programmes could expect to achieve.
Findings from the SSP process evaluation (Sherbert Research, 2009) also note that
despite the positive impacts on absenteeism and truancy, some staff and parents
from the schools involved were uncomfortable with the idea of having a police officer
on site. They noted that the exact role of the police officer was often unclear and
expressed having concerns about the potentially stigmatising effect on the school,
marking them out as being a ‘problem’ establishment. These kinds of problems can
negatively affect the smooth running of initiatives, particularly those which adopt a
whole-school or otherwise universal approach, and may ultimately limit the success
of the programme. Since issues surrounding a programme’s implementation have
been identified as a key feature of programme effectiveness (see sections 2.2 and 5
for further detail), such concerns should not be ignored in future development of
SSPs and any similar new initiatives.
After School Patrols, an element of the Youth Crime Action Plan (YCAP), introduced
by the previous administration in 1998, are a universal, area-based initiative
designed to tackle antisocial behaviour and disorder at school closing times on
problematic bus routes, outside of schools and at transport interchanges. As yet
there is no robust evidence on how this intervention impacts on youth offending but
the programme design does not readily lend itself to rigorous evaluation. However,
as an operation based on a principle of deterrence, the findings from international
literature allow us to question the effectiveness of such an intervention.
School-based intervention is generally not, in practice, a stand-alone programme or
curricula. Rather it is a mix of many different activities that schools implement. There
is, for example, evidence that school-based initiatives designed to improve social
and emotional skills, such as SEAL, can reduce problematic behaviours such as
bullying and negative school attitudes and may consequently lead to gains in
reducing young people’s antisocial behaviours (DfES, 2006), which is clearly a good
example of child skills training.
The lack of school-based programmes in the UK focussing solely on youth crime and
antisocial behaviour is also likely to reflect limitations in the extent to which schools
can restructure their teaching practices and reorganise classroom management as in
the examples of STATUS or PATHE given above. For example, with very few
exceptions, schools are not able to hold students back and make them repeat a year
as in the US. However, one of the findings from the international literature is that the
location of the intervention is not a key determinant of programme effectiveness.
Thus if the suite of early interventions provided locally is sufficiently flexible to
capture all of the target groups in the local area, then the lack of school-based
programmes should not in and of itself be problematic. It is, however, vital that
schools continue to work with other agencies in order that vulnerable and at-risk
young people are identified and accurately targeted.
Table 3.3.1: Summary table – School-based interventions
Partnerships(SSPs) SSPspromotethe
AfterSchoolPatrols AfterSchoolPatrols
3.4 Communityandneighbourhoodbasedearlyintervention
There are a number of initiatives in the UK which can come under the heading of
community and/or neighbourhood-based programmes. In the UK, community-based
programmes and early intervention strategies typically follow two broad categories.
The first, are wholly targeted services which work with a selective group of young
people already displaying delinquent behaviours (indicative) and include Youth
Inclusion and Support Panels (YISPs), Challenge and Support projects and Triage in
Custody Suites. The second are services targeted at more general, selective
populations of young people broadly “at risk” 13 which combine in varying ways
developmental activities and situational intervention with a focus on diversionary
activities and reduced opportunities for engaging in criminal activities, such as
Positive Activities for Young People14 (PAYP), Youth Inclusion Panels (YIPs), Street
Based Teams (part of YCAP) and the Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP).
As in the examples from the international literature, across both the indicative and
selective categories, community-based approaches to youth crime and antisocial
behaviour are highly variable in design and can incorporate features found in
individual, family and school-based interventions. While there are similar flaws in
rigorously evaluating these larger-scale studies, many of the findings replicate those
from the evidence base previously discussed. YISPs, for example, like those multi-
modal programmes cited above, work with a very specific set of young people who
are at high risk of offending and antisocial behaviour through a range of tailored
interventions including family group conferencing and parenting support, coordinated
by a dedicated key worker.
Supporting Lipsey’s conclusions (2009), findings from the YISP national evaluation
indicate that the higher the levels of individual risk when starting the YISP
intervention, the greater the likely level of risk reduction (Walker et al., 2007). Again
reflecting findings from Joliffe and Farrington (2008) discussed above, the Walker
study also demonstrated that young people receiving mentoring as part of the
broader YISP programme saw a higher than average risk reduction, further
underscoring the value of a multi-modal delivery framework. The evaluation also
highlighted the critical role played by YISP key workers and suggests that their one-
to-one relationship with the child and their family is the most important factor in
securing engagement in the programme and promoting positive change.
Early evidence from YIPs, Challenge and Support projects and Triage in Custody
Suites all show associations in the “right” direction, but the kinds of evaluations
carried out and weaknesses in the data gathered limit understanding of the
effectiveness of such interventions. The remit of YIPs, for example, is very broad and
covers five phases from setting up neighbourhood and management structures to
13 ThoughseetheexampleofOpenDriveforanexampleofauniversalprogramme.
deliver the programme and identifying the most at risk 50 young people, to then
engaging, assessing and delivering interventions to them all with the aim of
reintegrating into mainstream society those most at risk of offending, truancy or
school exclusion. The programme’s aims are that the core 50 should be attending
activities for an average of five hours per week including for example, alternative
education programmes for young people not attending school, sporting activities,
arts/culture or media projects such as DJ-ing and family projects.
The YIP approach combines elements of both developmental and situational
prevention, giving young people somewhere safe to go where they can learn new
skills, take part in activities with others under the guidance of positive role models
and get support with their education and careers guidance. However, it is not
prescriptive or individually tailored and therefore does not as a matter of course
contain many of the central characteristics of effective programmes. There is some
learning of new skills, however not necessarily the social, emotional, and cognitive
competence skills associated with child skills training, and whilst mentoring is also a
feature of YIPs, this is through the provision of positive role models as opposed to
the more effective intensive, mentoring programmes. While, independent evaluations
suggest an association between YIPs participation and decreases in offending
behaviour and arrests, there are concerns about the effectiveness of the programme
in reaching the core 50 and the programme design prevents it from being able to
robustly evaluate impact.
Restorative Justice (RJ) interventions, fall outside the scope of the current study
since they predominantly deal with young people already in the youth justice system.
They are worthy of brief mention here, however, as they have been the subject of
several evaluations and appear more promising: results show significant reductions
in the frequency of reconviction (Shapland et al., 2008). The cost-effectiveness
element of the study also highlights the lifetime savings made to society through RJ
conferencing schemes.
The Tackling Knives Action Programme (TKAP) attempts to provide an ‘end-to-end
approach’ from prevention to enforcement in aiming to reduce the carrying of knives,
related homicides and serious stabbings among teenagers in ten police force areas.
TKAP works closely with schools to educate young people about the dangers of
carrying knives, gives more and longer custodial sentences to those in possession of
knives and offensive weapons, and increases targeted stop and searches to deter
young people from carrying knives but does not by programme definition include any
of the key factors associated with programme effectiveness. Ward and Diamond
(2009) compare findings between TKAP and non-TKAP areas and report an overall
decline in recorded knife crime and hospital admissions in the target age group
during the TKAP period, but underlying differences in the areas prior to the initiative
limit the extent to which these results can be attributed to programme.
The evaluation evidence is particularly limited for programmes targeting at-risk
young people such as Operation Stay Safe (YCAP) and Street Based Teams
(YCAP), and less individually-focused positive activities programmes such as PAYP
(Positive Activities for Young People) and Open Drive, few of which contain any of
the characteristics identified as integral to effective programmes in international
literature. The only data available for these initiatives is monitoring data on how
many young people are reached but not what happens to them after that and
average annual spend per young person. The intention behind Open Drive does
have the potential to be effective as an after school recreation initiative, particularly
as positive activities were to be offered on Friday and Saturday nights when young
people are most likely to be unsupervised and therefore engaged in criminal activity.
However, this will depend very much on whether the activities offered are also well
structured and there is proper supervision.
There are some examples of promising practice amongst the community-based
initiatives. YISPs, for example, adopt a multi-modal delivery framework alongside a
mentoring programme and the use of a designated case worker and show reductions
in young people’s risk profiles. However, there is a particular gap in the quality of
scientific evidence evaluating these programs. The YISPs evaluation was designed
more to assess process than impact and lacks any form of comparison group to
retrospectively do so. Moreover, the evaluation suggests that many of the YISPs
were targeting different groups of children making overall comparison problematic.
Nevertheless, that comparable findings with the international evidence base are
found where programmes include the key features associated with effective practice
in this literature is positive.
Table 3.4.1: Summary table – YISPs, YIPs and CS projects
Table 3.4.2: Summary table – Triage, Restorative Justice, Tackling Knives Action Programme