10 July 2021

Vulnerability and violent crime: Early intervention for vulnerable children

Evaluations of three interventions designed to provide early intervention for vulnerable children have now been published. Here, we share some of the main findings.

Background
Supported by funding from the Police Transformation Fund, the College has been working with the NPCC to build the evidence base on vulnerability and violent crime. Focused on mapping and evaluating new and emerging practice, the programme has published a series of reports to disseminate findings. Work on early intervention for vulnerable children has been carried out by the College in partnership with intervention leads in police forces, academic evaluators from the universities of Birmingham and Bath, with oversight from a  programme board. Three interventions were evaluated:

Trusted Adult Workers for Adverse Childhood Experiences

Trusted Adult Workers (TAWs) were introduced in Hampshire as part of a collaboration between the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Hampshire Constabulary, and local authorities across Hampshire. The intervention trained and funded specific TAWs to provide support to young people and families experiencing adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). They used resilience-building approaches with the intension of reducing any negative consequences children experienced regarding criminal justice, health and social wellbeing.

The evaluation used focus groups with a sample of referral partners and semi-structured interviews with seven TAWs to understand the perceived success of the intervention. Impact on children and families was measured by a prospective cohort study, where a specific group (cohort) of children were followed from when they were allocated a TAW until they left the intervention. An evidence-based tool called Outcomes Stars was used to measure change in the factors under study before and after the intervention period. These scores were compared to those of children who were not included in the TAWs scheme. The training provided by Rock Pool was also evaluated as part of the work. Key findings included:

  • That TAWs had a positive impact on a range of outcomes for the children they supported, including improvements in their emotional health, resilience and self-esteem.

  • Whilst TAWs were originally set up to work in the very early intervention arena (where children should have had a minimal number of ACEs), in practice the TAWs have been working with children who already have four or more ACEs. This implies that despite high levels of existing adversity, TAWs were still able to create a positive difference.

  • Parents, carers and partner agencies involved in referring children to TAWs felt they were positive and useful in their work with children.

Most improvement was seen in people who were younger, female and had more ACES. Some barriers to implementation of this intervention included resource and capacity issues, variability in definitions of ACEs and problems associated with not making referrals as early as possible.

Think Family Early Intervention Scheme

The Think Family Early Intervention (TFEI) is an initiative delivered by Avon and Somerset Police where police community support officers (PCSOs) visit and offer support to families who fall below the threshold for receiving help from the local authority, but still have policing and/or crime related issues. The impact evaluation used quantitative data collected from all families that went through the intervention in the Avon and Somerset Police area at intervals between October 2015 and June 2019. Two phone interviews and three focus groups were used to explore the views and experiences of individuals involved in the delivery of TFEI. The key findings include:

  • Crime, youth crime and domestic violence incidents dropped significantly both six and 12 months following the intervention compared to a similar period of time before the intervention, but there was no significant drop in missing person's episodes or anti-social behaviour. It should be noted that since this is a pre-post analysis only, these may be naturally occurring changes in offending.

  • PCSOs reported experiencing problems in delivering the intervention due to a lack of training and understanding of procedures, problems with working with other agencies, and issues surrounding family engagement and rapport.

Family Safety Plans in cases of neglect

Neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment in the UK, accounting for approximately two-fifths of children on the Child Protection Register. However, neglect is often not seen as a priority compared to other forms of maltreatment. For police, there can be difficulty in evidencing that neglect has been "wilful", which is a required element for prosecution. The Family Safety Plans (FSPs) in cases of neglect intervention was implemented in Child Abuse Investigation Teams (CAITs) across Hampshire Constabulary and designed to address the need to evidence wilful neglect. The intervention aimed to ensure CAIT teams would work with social care and health services early in a case to avoid the need for a prosecution using four key mechanisms:

  • engagement between professionals and families to raise awareness and set expectations,

  • identifying additional support for families as required

  • monitoring compliance through use of a structured plan

  • providing clarity of expectations around compliance.

Quantitative data, such as case outcomes, was collected on the 258 referrals made within the three-month period (July to September 2019). This data was compared with historical data from a similar cohort (n=268) from 2017, before the introduction of the intervention. Three-month and six-month follow-up data were also compared for both groups. Finally, interviews were conducted with 21 police officers and 21 social workers  to establish their views on the effectiveness of FSPs. Key findings included: 

  • Preliminary evidence suggesting that paying increased attention to neglect can have positive outcomes for children.
  • Analysis of interviews with police officers showed that neglect was receiving more attention through the intervention, and identified many positive features of the new approach (e.g., it can be a useful way to work with families; better collaboration with social work colleagues).
  • Statistical analysis showed a 45% reduction in the use of Outcome 20 (where police pass responsibility for the case to social workers), a 12% increase in use of out of court disposals (particularly community resolution) and 20% and 18% reductions in rates of referral for Child Protection Plans (CPPs) within 3 and 6 months compared to 2017 data in the intervention areas.
  • Many officers and social workers welcomed the increased joint working and collaboration. However, the efficacy of the intervention was likely affected by the lack of training (for both professions, but particularly for social workers), a lack of clarity of police and social work roles, and insufficient attention paid to practicalities of implementation, such as the format of the FSP document.
  • In addition, attention needs to be paid to the unintended consequences (e.g., stress for parents, possible disproportionate responses) and the concerns raised by professionals. Longer term follow up data plus views of parents and children are required in order to fully contextualise the statistical findings.

Conclusion

There is evidence from the TAW, TFEI, and FSP interventions that early intervention is a good approach and is impacting positively on outcomes for children/young people and their families. However, success is contingent on interventions being implemented appropriately. In particular, the remit and referral or eligibility criteria need to be clearly defined, roles and responsibilities need to be agreed, adequate and timely training needs to be in place, and appropriate levels of resourcing provided. Effective multi-agency working is also essential.