Madeline Rolfe, Analyst, Friday 7 May 2021
Photo taken by young people in Bradford involved in Crest's research
Crest has been conducting research with West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership and Violence Reduction Unit to understand the root causes of serious violence and exploitation of young people in the area. Crest Analyst Madeline Rolfe considers the steps required to engage with young people to tackle youth violence.
“Start young”, that is what Emily*, a 17-year-old girl from Bradford, told us when we asked what advice she would give to professionals working to end youth violence.
Too often, research into issues affecting young people focuses on the adult perspective and fails to capture what young people are thinking. As part of Crest's research project to understand the root causes of serious youth violence and exploitation in West Yorkshire, we set out to do things differently.
We asked young people to tell us in their own words the impact serious violence and exploitation has on them and their communities. And throughout the project we consulted and collaborated with them to understand the issues as they saw them.
This approach has enabled us to put forward fresh and unique evidence-based recommendations to the West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership and Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) to tackle serious youth violence and exploitation in the region.
Reaching hard-to-reach young people
To overcome the logistical difficulties of reaching young people in West Yorkshire, we began by establishing trusted relationships with their adult representatives. That involved email exchanges, phone calls, and video interviews. Once we had developed good relationships with the representatives, we asked them to facilitate interviews with the young people.
The young people selected for interview were from diverse and often challenging backgrounds. Many of them had special educational needs and disabilities (SEND); some had been excluded from mainstream education.
With those vulnerabilities in mind, we worked with the adult representatives to decide the most appropriate way to engage with the young people - and that meant we had to work flexibly. For instance, we interviewed one young person via a mobile phone from a supermarket car park because of safety concerns and internet connectivity issues at his home. To reach young people from the SEND cohort who might find it difficult to sit through an interview, we arranged for trusted youth workers to carry out the interviews remotely. The responses were then sent to Crest Advisory for analysis.
This flexible approach ensured we reached a broad range of young people across West Yorkshire. As a result, our report reflects the views of vulnerable young people who are often not included in research.
Collaboration with young people
Early on in the project, we held a focus group with apprentices based in Bradford, aged 16 to 25. We discussed the impact of serious youth violence and exploitation and the connection with poverty, substance misuse and unmet mental health needs.
Through this work we gained a fresh understanding of how health inequalities and serious violence and exploitation affect young people in West Yorkshire. The group explained why young people become involved in violence and exploitation:
“There are not a lot of opportunities for young people like me. And when there are not a lot of legitimate opportunities, obviously young people are going to go out and do other things in order to make money, there’s nothing else they can do.”
We often hear media reports about how few opportunities there are for young people, particularly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but here we had young people themselves highlighting how a lack of opportunity and poverty are driving forces pushing them into crime, violence and exploitation.
Youth-led creative engagement
Following the focus group, we identified several young people who were closely involved in their communities. After consulting the adult lead, we approached two of them to be our ‘youth ambassadors,’ Kem and Isha. We developed a working relationship with them and met every week to discuss their work on the project.
Kem and Isha independently created a spoken word piece and video to express how they felt about the impact of violence and exploitation on young people. It moved me to tears when I watched it.
They explained why they’d done it this way:
“We wanted to subvert traditional gender stereotypes by focusing the narrative on a young boy who has been sexually exploited and a young girl who has been criminally exploited.”
Youth-led consultation with young people
To reach more young people, together with the youth ambassadors, we organised a youth-led focus group.
The ambassadors took the lead by selecting a group of participants and Crest then helped to draft a template for interviews. It was important to get this right so it would appeal to the young people taking part. We practiced the interviews with the youth ambassadors and discussed how we would support them during the meeting.
In the end, however, they needed very little assistance. Kem and Isha asked clear and concise questions and prompted the participants to elaborate on answers when required. It was evident the ambassadors were genuinely interested in trying to understand how their peers were affected by the issues.
Despite the challenging nature of the subject matter, the young interviewees seemed at ease answering the questions. Having carried out focus groups with young people myself, the value in youth-led interviewing was clear: the interviewees were far more talkative, open and honest.
The importance of engaging directly with young people
Organising interviews in car parks and liaising with 17-year-olds 239 miles away can be logistically challenging and time consuming. But the benefits of the approach we used are clear. Engaging with young people directly on issues that affect them added robustness to our research. Instead of relying on what adults think, we took time to dig deeper and in doing so captured youthful and diverse insights. We discovered that young people not only recognise that change is necessary but also have brilliant ideas on how to make it happen.
Crest Advisory was commissioned by the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership and the West Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit to carry out research to understand the root causes of serious violence and exploitation of young people in West Yorkshire.
The final report will draw on several strands of qualitative and quantitative analysis to produce genuinely fresh local insight, along with a set of practical recommendations for adopting an effective long-term public health approach to serious violence and the exploitation of young people in West Yorkshire and Harrogate communities.
The report will be published in early Summer 2021.
On the research, the West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership said: "The partnership that has been developed with Crest Advisory is invaluable; Jessica, Maddie and the team embarked on this journey with passion and ambition, taking on a challenge beyond their usual way of working by co-producing this insight with young people.
"Both the team from Crest Advisory and the young people involved have been absolutely amazing, this is such an emotive and sensitive area of work that will inform vital interventions to support young people across West Yorkshire to live their best lives, free from harm and exploitation."
*The respondent’s name has been changed for privacy reasons.