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Youth Vulnerability and Violence: Reviewing the lived experiences of vulnerable young people

Insights Report


Authors: Madeline Rolfe, Senior Analyst | Sarah Hibbert, Analyst

Tuesday 27 June 2023


Crest Advisory was commissioned by the Youth Endowment Fund to conduct research on serious youth violence and vulnerability in England and Wales. The research was in three parts: an analysis of national indicators of serious violence and vulnerability; a survey of over 2,000 children and young people across England and Wales; and engagement with vulnerable young people in contact with a Youth Offending Service (YOS), and their support workers.

This report focuses on our engagement with vulnerable young people in contact with a YOS and their support workers. To conduct the research we reviewed and collected qualitative and quantitative information on the young people. By reviewing these data sources in tandem, we were able to look beyond the statistics to better understand how vulnerability and violence affects young people.

Our key findings

  • Childhood vulnerability and proximity to violence are closely linked. When a child lacks key protective factors such as education, access to support services and healthy relationships they are more vulnerable to exploitation. In reviewing the life stories of the young people in contact with the YOS, we found a connection between a lack of these protective factors and proximity to violence.

  • One of the most powerful tools to engage vulnerable young people is establishing trusted relationships. When young people feel that they are listened to and understood, they are more likely to engage with support services and interventions. The life stories of the young people we engaged with highlighted the importance of trusted relationships. For Dominic, whose life story is outlined below, having a dedicated YOS worker who regularly checked in with him helped to reduce his offending.

Dominic's Story

  • Young people feel that violence around them is increasing. In particular, they are worried about knife crime and believe that it has been on the rise in recent years. For young people in contact with the YOS, violence and weapon carrying is the norm, not the exception.

“I feel that there is definitely more offending among young people these days. And that’s not because I know more about it since I’m older, there just is more and it has definitely spiked over the years.”

- Young offender

  • Young people told us that they carry knives for protection and because everyone else is doing it. Our conversations with young people in contact with the YOS and their support workers highlighted that knife carrying has been accepted and adopted by the most vulnerable young people as a normal behaviour.

“Some young people carry knives for protection. If young people see others carrying knives and they’re seeing others getting stabbed, then they are obviously going to be carrying knives for protection.”

- Young offender

“I don’t think carrying a knife is a status symbol anymore, because every young person is carrying one nowadays. Maybe in 2019 carrying a knife was a status symbol, but by 2022 it’s just natural.”

- Young offender

  • The perceived increase in youth violence and weapon carrying differs from the quantitative evidence. Our analysis of YOS quantitative data found that serious youth violence has remained stable in recent years, and that overall youth offending has been declining. One reason to explain the difference between perception and the quantitative evidence is that the violence experienced by young people is not always reported to the police. As a result, crime statistics may not reflect the full extent of violence experienced by young people.

Figure 1: Number of total offences by the YOS cohort, 2017 to 2021

  • Engaging with young people directly is vital to tackling violence. By including young people in research, we can gather more evidence about their experiences of vulnerability and violence. In this project we have developed a broader understanding of violence and vulnerability experienced by vulnerable young people through reviewing both qualitative and quantitative evidence in tandem.

  • The Serious Violence Duty can support the gathering and sharing of information on youth vulnerability and violence, as well as qualitative engagement with vulnerable young people. In turn, an improved understanding of the root causes of violence and of the experiences of young people can support the development of effective support and interventions for children and young people to divert them from violence and improve their life chances.


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