Exploring how place-based approaches might help reduce youth violence

Recent research from the World Health Organisation highlights the urgent need for innovative solutions to youth violence, ranking homicide as the third leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 19. Place-based approaches (PBAs) – where the problem is understood and addressed in its local context – are considered a potential solution.

In the effort to understand more about PBAs, and in line with significant investment in developing and testing such responses, the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) funded researchers from CEI, Monash University and the University of Cambridge Violence Research Centre to conduct a large-scale review of existing evidence.

“Recognising that youth violence is often concentrated in specific localities, PBAs aim to understand the local context it derives from, and to develop solutions with local communities and agencies,” explains Jane Lewis, CEI’s UK Managing Director. “If violence is rooted locally, then solutions also need to be understood and addressed in the local context.”

Evidence about impact

The review of impact evidence shows PBAs can be effective as a way of tackling youth violence. Positive impacts were more evident when serious youth violence was targeted, and when multi-component approaches were taken – i.e. combining both universal preventative activities (such as crime prevention work in schools) with targeted interventions for young people already involved in violence (such as youth outreach or conflict resolution). Twenty identified studies (17 from the US, two from Australia and one from the UK) measured the impacts of PBAs.

Evidence about models and implementation

The evidence also points strongly to the importance of engaging the local community and local stakeholder agencies (typically police, schools, community-based organisations, and health, religious, child and family services). A local collaborative governance structure was often put in place to support engagement across agencies.

“Strategies for building and sustaining engagement include making sure you’re asking about, listening to and learning about the place, so you can build relationships and communicate effectively,” says CEI Principal Advisor Dr Stephanie Smith. “The review also found it’s important to address pre-existing tensions or conflicts between local groups or agencies, to involve them deeply and meaningfully in decision-making, and to devolve power.”

Developing visibility and an identity for the PBA, ensuring the necessary resources are available, and planning for sustainability were other key strategies identified.

Recommendations to unlock the potential of PBAs

The review makes several recommendations to guide decisions on how to best deliver and evaluate PBAs to tackle youth violence.

  1. The evidence suggests multi-pronged strategies targeting both individuals at risk or engaged in violence and the broader youth population are needed.
  2. Build from and work with the local place and context: deeply understanding the local context is an important starting point, and developing strong partnership working and community involvement is key. This requires significant investment of time and effort, both in development and throughout the lifetime of the PBA.
  3. Data and evidence need to be central to PBA activity, to understand the local context, to assess and prioritise needs, and to select evidence-based interventions. Agile approaches are required, including drawing on local data, the insights and experiences of local people, evidence about what has worked in previous PBAs and local initiatives, evidence about effective approaches to address the targeted outcomes, and how to adapt them to local needs.
  4. Systems-level change needs to be planned and explicitly described and articulated, with specific focus and activities needed early on.
  5. Prioritise rigorous evaluation to assess PBA impacts and implementation: despite the prevalence of PBA activity, there remains little robust evaluation of the impacts of PBAs targeting youth violence.

“As far as we are aware, this is the first attempt to combine evidence from studies about a range of different place-based approaches specifically targeting youth violence,” says Jane. “Thanks to the Youth Endowment Fund, we’ve been able to address a significant evidence gap and make the path clearer for future interventions.”

The report, Place-based approaches to tackling local youth violence: A review of evidence on models, implementation and impacts, was co-authored by Dr Sara Valdebenito from the University of Cambridge, Dr Susan Baidawi and Professor Aron Shlonsky from Monash University, and CEI’s Dr Stephanie Smith, Dr Michelle Irving, Emma Wills, Jade Mitchell, Amy Hall, Baoyi Tan and Jane Lewis. The study was funded by the Youth Endowment Fund and released last year.

The full report can be read and downloaded HERE.