Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

34.  Memorandum submitted by NCH


  NCH, the children's charity, is the largest voluntary sector provider of services to children, young people and families in the UK. We run more than 500 projects and work with more than 100,000 people every year. NCH has extensive professional experience of working to prevent and tackle anti-social behaviour and we work with both the perpetrators and the victims. In partnership with local authorities we run several innovative projects that aim to address the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour.

  Incidents of anti-social behaviour can cause misery to families, estates and communities and it is right that the Home Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into the effectiveness of government policy to address this problem. While gaining media headlines and being seen to be tough on anti-social behaviour may be politically advantageous, what matters to NCH is the implementation of effective policies that reduce anti-social behaviour.

  We know that young people are more likely to be the victims of anti-social behaviour than the perpetrators and that many youngsters are worried about anti-social behaviour. Indeed a recent Populus poll reflected this view which found that two-thirds of young people were seriously concerned about anti-social behaviour.[120]


  Anti-social behaviour is a very complex problem and if the Government is to be successful in tackling such behaviour a balanced package of both enforcement and preventative measures is required. This view is supported in the Social Exclusion Unit's report 8 on Anti-social Behaviour which stated in paragraph 7 that:

    ". . . To be effective the problem of anti-social behaviour needs to be addressed as a whole. Addressing any part of the problem in isolation will not provide a long-term solution. Tough enforcement action will not decrease anti-social behaviour unless it is linked to effective prevention. Evictions will only move the problem elsewhere unless perpetrators are made to change their behaviour."[121]

  In fact, there is a danger that over reliance on enforcement could actually result in overlooking other problems such as domestic violence. Getting this balance right is essential and NCH is concerned that government policy in this area has been dominated by enforcement measures with little attention on prevention. In our view, if the Government continues in this direction it will be greeted with very little success as the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour are not being sufficiently addressed.

  Below, we outline our observations on a number of measures that the Government has introduced to tackle anti-social behaviour.


  NCH believes that, when appropriately delivered, parenting support can be beneficial to parents. However, we question whether such a measure would bring to an end to entrenched anti-social behaviour by young people. We disagree with what we see as "spin" put on the Youth Justice Board (YJB) research in 2002[122] which generated headlines such as "Parent Classes Help Cut Youth Offending: Upbeat Assessment of New Government Programme". As well as the view of Lord Warner, the then chair of the YJB, who commented that "Now there is real evidence [that] relatively short parenting programmes . . . can cut offending by half among youngsters who were already entrenched in their offending."[123]

  In fact, closer analysis of the YJB's research indicates that Parenting Orders are seen in some cases as an initial barrier to engagement because of their enforced nature. The report observes "it is far less clear from the research that the programme had a positive impact on young people" and that the improvements in young people's behaviour were more likely to be because they were themselves on "change programmes" run by Youth Offending Teams. Interestingly, the researchers conclude, "parenting programmes are unlikely to provide a "quick fix" for entrenched anti-social behaviour by young people, though they may perhaps have the effect of applying the brakes on what are often very fast downward trajectories in terms of outcomes for this vulnerable group."

  NCH questions the effectiveness of Parenting Orders in tackling anti-social behaviour. Instead, we believe that there should be an environment in which all parents can voluntarily access support with numerous chances for parents and children to opt in as part of a package of family support. In doing so this would enable parents to seek support and advice in a non-stigmatised way and crucially before anti-social behaviour becomes entrenched. This would mean that such behaviour could be addressed at an early stage with a better chance of successfully reversing anti-social tendencies.


  Initial government guidance stated that ASBOs were to be an instrument of last resort and only issued when other interventions have failed.[124] However, this has now changed and current guidance states that there is now no necessity to try other interventions prior to the issuing an ASBO. NCH strongly opposes this change and believes that it should be reversed. This is because issuing an ASBO in isolation will not address the underlying causes of a person's behaviour. It should be the last resort, not the first form of intervention.

  If we are to successfully tackle anti-social behaviour it is essential that provision is available to help change and address the causes of such behaviour through engagement. The importance of this kind of approach was highlighted in the Home Office review of ASBOs which found in 60% of cases there were mitigating factors involved in the offender's anti-social behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse, temporary or permanent school exclusion, eviction or learning disability.[125] Research by Norton and Nixon (2002) supports this view as they found that more than two-thirds of defendants threatened with eviction from social housing were described by housing offices as having "particular vulnerabilities of special needs."[126]

  We are of the view that people need to be given the opportunity to change their behaviour before punitive punishment is used. We do not believe that ASBOs achieve this, nor do we think that Individual Support Orders issued in conjunction with ASBOs will make a real difference. Instead, our experience points to the need to tackle the underlying causes at the earliest possible stage.

  We are concerned that the number of ASBOs issued to tackle anti-social behaviour has more than doubled since March last year[127] when there is no evidence to show that issuing ASBOs is an effective method of reducing anti-social behaviour. NCH favours an independent impact evaluation of ASBOs in order to establish their effectiveness of reducing anti-social behaviour.


  NCH is concerned about the increasing use of the policy of naming and shaming young people who are subject to ASBOs. There is clearly an inconsistency between the publicity given to young people who have been issued an ASBO and the protection from public identification of children convicted of more serious crimes. Again, we question the impact that naming and shaming has on changing a young person's behaviour. We believe there is a danger that this measure will reduce the chances of young people correcting their behaviour as well as running the risk of alienating young people from their local community.

  As with ASBOs, it seems that little attention is taken to mitigating circumstances when using this measure. For example, in August 2004 a 12 year old boy with the mental age of a four and a half year old having Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and autism was issued with an ASBO and named in his local paper.[128] We do not believe that is the best way to help this young person or his family and some magistrates seem to share this view. It is interesting to note recently magistrates in Cambridge refused to lift restrictions preventing the identification of young people issued with an ASBO because it was not in the interests of justice.[129] In our experience of working with families the evidence shows that engaging in tailored intensive support is more effective.


  NCH does not agree that the eviction of tenants for anti-social behaviour is an effective way of reducing the problem. We believe that eviction will only result in anti-social behaviour being displaced and not addressed—a view also supported in research carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.[130] In contrast, our experience working with families with a history of anti-social behaviour suggests that addressing the causes of anti-social behaviour is a more effective approach than eviction. For example, NCH's Dundee Families Project which offers a wide range of support services to the homeless and those facing eviction as a result of anti-social behaviour has been judged a success in tackling nuisance neighbours and anti-social tenants. Research by the University of Glasgow found that two-thirds of the families referred to the project have been successfully re-housed and put back on secure tenancies.[131]

  Interestingly, there is a cluster of characteristics associated with those families referred to the project because of anti-social behaviour—characteristics that highlight their vulnerability. The evaluation of the project found that:

    —  two thirds of households were a one parent structure;

    —  nearly all the families were reliant on state benefits;

    —  70% of adults had drug or alcohol problems;

    —  over 50% of adults had criminal records;

    —  there was evidence of neglect affecting almost half the children; and

    —  over half the women had suffered from domestic violence.[132]

  However, while our Dundee Families Project has been judged a success, our experience points to a significant shortfall in this kind of provision nationally. It is our view that the necessary support and assistance is not available or easily accessible in the majority of cases. In addition, limited resources and the pressure on local authorities have resulted in the adoption of short-term quick-fix solutions rather than the development of long-term preventative strategies. We believe that there needs to be greater resources targeted to addressing the factors contributing to anti-social behaviour. We support the creation of a single funding allocation to resource initiatives to tackle the causes of anti-social behaviour.


  Our work running a number of Children Fund programmes reinforces the merits of support and prevention to reduce anti-social behaviour by young people. For example, feedback sheets asking 46 young people about the benefits of activities offered to them for four nights a week by their local Children Fund found 44 respondents believed that these activities keep them out of trouble.[133] One respondent commented: "Before Activate (an activity provided by the Children's Fund) I hanged around the street and talk to my mates but when I come now I learn more things" (Girl, aged 12).[134]

  The services provided by the Children's Fund are, in many areas of the country, successfully reducing the likelihood of young people behaving anti-socially. We also support the development of complementary initiatives such as Splash and Summer Splash, which have shown a positive impact in reducing anti-social behaviour. However, NCH is of the view that there is still inadequate support and facilities available for young people and this kind of provision needs to be expanded and made available all year round. This view was also supported in a survey carried out by the Prince's Trust, which found that 92% of adults believed that local authorities should provide more diversionary activities for young people to help tackle anti-social behaviour.[135] We hope that the forthcoming Green Paper on Youth Provision will address the need to invest in youth services.


  Our experience of working with families and young people strongly suggests that addressing the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour is a far more effective approach than just punishing them through enforcement measures. While there are some good examples of preventative initiatives to tackle anti-social behaviour there is still a significant deficit in this kind of provision. NCH believes that until such provision is widely accessible the Government's success in reducing anti-social behaviour will be severely limited.

15 September 2004

120   Young worried by antisocial crimes, Times newspaper (9th September 2004). Back

121   Paragraph 7, A Report of PAT 8: Anti-social Behaviour, Social Exclusion Unit (March 2000). Back

122   Ghate D and Ramella M, Positive Parenting: The National Evaluation of the Youth Justice Board's Parenting Programme. Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (2002). Back

123   Article in the Guardian newspaper by Woodward W., Education Editor (10 July 2002). Back

124   Para 3.13, "A Consultation Draft: Anti-social Behaviour Orders Guidance" Home Office (August 1998). Back

125   P 7, Tackling anti-social behaviour-what really works, Nacro (September 2002). Back

126   P 8, Tackling anti-social behaviour-what really works, Nacro (September 2002). Back

127   Record Year for ASBOs as Communities Fight Back, Home Office Press Release (31 August 2004). Back

128   P 5 South Wales Argus newspaper (5th August 2004). Back

129   For example see "Court Refuses to Name `Complete Nuisance', 12" Cambridge News (9 September 2004). Back

130   Neighbour nuisance, social landlords and the law, Hunter, Nixon and Shayler, Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2000). Back

131   Evaluation of the Dundee Families Project, University of Glasgow (2001). Back

132   Evaluation of the Dundee Families Project, University of Glasgow (2001). Back

133   P 23, Interim Report, St Helen's Children's Fund Evaluation. Helle Mittler, Prof Corinne May-Chahal University of Central Lancashire (May 2004). Back

134   P 24, Interim Report, St Helen's Children's Fund Evaluation. Helle Mittler, Prof Corinne May-Chahal University of Central Lancashire (May 2004). Back

135   Budget gap will mean service cuts, Children Now (18 August 2004). Back

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