Can Professional Interventions Contribute to an Escalation in Cases of Youth Violence? Considering the Impact of the Shift from Informal to Formal Youth Support on an Inner City Housing Estate

Published date01 December 2023
AuthorJames Alexander
Date01 December 2023
Subject MatterOriginal Articles
Youth Justice
2023, Vol. 23(3) 269 –285
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1473225421990758
Can Professional Interventions
Contribute to an Escalation in Cases
of Youth Violence? Considering the
Impact of the Shift from Informal to
Formal Youth Support on an Inner
City Housing Estate
James Alexander
Youth violence is on the increase across many UK cities and although national trends, such as more
networked entrepreneurial drug dealing, are contributing to the spread of such incidents, localised
community environments play a significant role in the development of violent youth cultures. Based on
a 4-year ethnographic study, this article explores how the shift from a resident led, relationship-based
interaction, to a more professionalised evidenced-based intervention model, increased the risk of young
people getting involved in youth violence. Efforts to address youth violence should consider including more
relational informal support networks, alongside more specialist interventions.
collective efficacy, ethnography, informal social control, neighbourhoods, professionalism, relationships,
serious youth violence, social deprivation
The article considers the impact that a shift from informal resident led to professional
youth support, through the commissioning of a series of youth violence interventions, had
on reciprocal intergenerational relationships and informal social control processes within
on a South London housing estate.
The research site is demographically typical of many of the housing estates within
London, having a relatively diverse population. According to the council’s own estate sur-
vey 27 per cent of the residents were of Black African origin, 18 per cent of Black Caribbean
origin, 18 per cent were White British, 7 per cent were Portuguese, and 6 per cent of other
White backgrounds.
Corresponding author:
James Alexander, London Metropolitan University, 220 Holloway Road, London, N7 8DB, UK.
990758YJJ0010.1177/1473225421990758Youth JusticeAlexander
Original Article
270 Youth Justice 23(3)
Historically, the estate had thriving resident networks which organised holiday play
schemes, youth clubs, free legal workshops, mother and toddler groups, and elderly
lunches. However, much of this had fallen by the wayside, and by the time the local
authority deemed it necessary to take action, the residents committee struggled to get 10
members to its meetings. Yet, there was still a small group of residents, who spent much
of their free time providing support for local young people.
During the study, the borough had the highest incidence of serious youth crime in the
capital, and serious youth violence had increased by 35 per cent over a 3-year period
(Lambeth Council, 2018). The research site has been an increasingly significant contribu-
tor to these statistics, with local young people being involved in at least 15 stabbings, and
9 shootings, both as victims and as perpetrators, over the past decade.
As concerns were emerging about the actions of groups of young people from the
estate, the local authority commissioned a series of professional youth interventions, to
replace the limited resident-led activities. However, their short-term nature subsequently
left the young people hanging out on the estate more isolated, and gave greater space for
a criminal youth culture to develop.
Quantitatively, the impacts of this isolation can be seen when one considers the change
in the growth of crimes such as weapons offences. Over the past 15 years, weapons
offences have been on the rise in the neighbourhood where the estate is located. However,
the ward crime data (Metropolitan Police Service, n.d.) for the area shows a distinct pat-
tern. In the 5 years when the residents were most active (2006–2010), weapons offences
only rose by 20 per cent compared to an average 55 per cent increase for nearby wards.
However, between 2012 and 2016, which saw professional support first dominate and
then disappear from the estate, the rate of increase in weapons offences tripled in the ward
where the estate is situated, while the same offences less than doubled in the neighbouring
areas. This study seeks to explore the localised changes that have contributed to this accel-
erated growth in youth violence.
Neighbourhood Environment and Youth Street Culture
Deprived neighbourhoods generally have increased rates of youth crime and violence
compared to other areas (Baumer et al., 2006; McAra and McVie, 2016; Morenoff et al.,
2006). Poverty increases exposure to risk factors such as childhood trauma, school exclu-
sion and violence at both the household and neighbourhood levels (Kim et al., 2016;
McAra and McVie, 2016; McCrea et al., 2019; Ross and Arsenault, 2018; Walters, 2018).
It also decreases the likelihood of protective factors such as healthy family and commu-
nity relationships being present (Gibson et al., 2009; Kim et al., 2016; McAra and McVie,
2016; Wikström and Loeber, 2006). Understanding youth violence, therefore, requires an
analysis of the interplay between young persons’ local environment and their supervisory
relationships (McAra and McVie, 2016; Salzinger et al., 2002).
The role that social relations play in neighbourhood control was first highlighted by
Shaw and McKay (1942), who applied a systemic model in their theory of Social
Disorganisation. Shaw and McKay (1942) showed how structural impediments, such as
deprivation, population turnover, and racial and ethnic heterogeneity, produce mistrust,

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