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Children who Commit Acts of Serious Interpersonal Violence - Messages for Practice


The Oak Foundation funded a consortium led by The Bridge Child Care Development Service to undertake an international study on the challenges posed for social care and youth justice staff by small numbers of particularly dangerous children who are difficult to place and to treat. The other members of the consortium were the Policy Research Bureau in London (an independent social policy research centre), Professor Friedrich Lösel of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, and Dr Helen Agathonos of the Institute of Child Health, Athens. The team has worked together as part of an international collaboration for many years on issues that cross the boundaries between child care and youth justice, and this project represented a continuation of this work.

What did the research focus on?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that most local authorities and social care agencies are responsible for a small group of children who may have committed or may be at risk of committing serious interpersonal violence. They may have overlapping mental health problems and be very difficult to place in company with other children. While they may not be currently involved with the youth justice system, there may be a serious risk that they will harm someone. There is evidence that treatment facilities for these children are limited and unregulated and that they pose particular challenges for agencies who do not know what to do with them. As a result there is a tension between meeting the children's needs and protecting society, which may result in compromises of care that contribute further to the risk that they will continue to pose a danger. The study focused on what we knew about what would be the best forms of care and treatment, and what services tell us about barriers and enabling factors that support or hinder good practice.

What did the research involve?

The overall aim of the project was the documentation and clarification of the extent of the problem that these types of children pose for social care services, and the identification of messages for good practice in their care and treatment. Specifically, the project hoped to:
  • Highlight the plight of, and extent of the problem posed by, potentially dangerous children who fall between agencies and are difficult to place
  • Document current strategies for dealing with them
  • Encourage agencies and policymakers to think creatively about how best to intervene and to support good practice
  • Raise the quality of discussion over issues of managing risk and public protection while at the same time actively managing care and providing successful intervention.

What did the research involve?

The research involved four discrete sets of activities:

  • A literature review, undertaken jointly by PRB and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. This briefly reviewed what we know about the main risk factors for very serious violent crime by young people and the best types of intervention and care.
  • A piece of comparative fieldwork, comprising a survey of social care staff in England and Wales, Germany and Greece to assess how many children raise these types of challenges to care provision, how they are dealt with, and whether examples of good practice can be identified.
  • An International Training Conference, bringing together selected participatants from across Europe to share the results of the study and international experience, and to firm up messages for good practice.

  • Publication of a book containing the results of the project and outcomes from the conference, specifically focused on what the Bridge terms the "Now Go And..." messages: that is, messages for practitioners about how to take their practice forward.

Timescale and final products of the research

The study commenced in March 2003, and lasted for 18 months until October 2004
It was published as a book by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in 2006:

Hagell, A. and Jeyarajah-Dent, R. (eds.) (2006) Children Who Commit Acts of Serious Interpersonal Violence: Messages for Best Practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

See Publications for further details.

Last updated October 2006