Therapeutic Interventions for Peace

Derren Hayes with Pippa Goodfellow and Amania Scott-Samuels from the Standing Committee for Youth Justice
Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Power The Fight’s report details recommendations for improvement of therapeutic services in London, that have arisen from qualitative and quantitative research data from young respondents, families and professionals.

More needs to be done to respond to the impact of violence on girls and young women. Picture: Adobe Stock
More needs to be done to respond to the impact of violence on girls and young women. Picture: Adobe Stock

Published by: Power The Fight (September 2020)

The aim of the research was to evidence the experiences of young people, families and practitioners in order to improve the effectiveness of therapeutic responses to violence affecting young people in London.

Study design

The methods were designed to answer three core questions:

  • How effective are current therapeutic responses to serious youth violence in London?
  • What limitations currently impede effective use of therapy in this context?
  • How can this be improved?

The report draws on qualitative and quantitative data from 102 young people, five families and 26 professionals providing extensive analysis of community experiences of therapeutic services. A sample of 14 professionals working across the sector were interviewed via video call and an open-ended questionnaire was completed by 12 further professionals in related roles. Five parents and guardians were contacted, a smaller number to allow time for therapeutic aftercare where needed.

It was central to the design of this research that young people were included, but it was not possible for this to be done in person due to Covid-19 restrictions. Given the increased risk of psychological harm through virtual in-depth interviews, data was collected through anonymous online surveys. The survey was distributed through the authors’ networks, ensuring an ethical approach by ensuring practitioners could support young people through existing relationships and ensure no harm was caused.

Key findings

  • The majority of young people surveyed had a high proximity to violence (experiencing it either first-hand or through close friends), with experiences of violence most likely to lead to feelings of anger. Black and male respondents were less likely to talk about these feelings and more likely to deal with these feelings through retaliation.
  • Therapeutic services that fail to understand the broader contexts and causes of youth violence risk harming young people further by making them feel they are the problem.
  • The language and culture of formal therapy can be a barrier for engagement with practitioners urging for greater innovation and flexibility in how therapeutic interventions are defined and delivered.
  • Marginalised groups often deeply distrust organisations and institutions due to experiences of structural harm through inequality in health care, education and criminal justice systems.
  • For black people in particular, trusting relationships with professionals rely greatly on representation and cultural competency, with young people and families much more likely to speak with practitioners who share or understand their ethnic background and culture.
  • The specific needs of women and girls in the context of community violence have been sidelined by male-focused interventions, leading to an absence of long-term girls’ projects, peer-to-peer support and parent groups for engaging families affected by trauma.
  • Referral systems are currently not fit for purpose; the threshold for engagement is too high and not effectively assessed, waiting lists are too long and there is a lack of ability to engage disenfranchised and socially marginalised groups.
  • In maintaining trusted and supportive relationships with socially marginalised young people and families, frontline practitioners are often risking their own mental health and wellbeing by becoming emotionally embedded in communities and feeling accountable for their safety.
  • There is a fundamental lack of clinical supervision for these high-risk roles, with many organisations having no internal referral process for their employees despite the harm their workers are continuously exposed to. This profession has a high “burnout” rate.
  • Practice-based or professionals with “lived experience” are systemically undervalued and structurally excluded from decision making at a strategic level, often made to feel culturally out of place, tokenised or exploited.
  • There is no cohesive strategy or “wraparound” package of support in place; to provide immediate and long-term support for family and friends in the aftermath of a violent incident or traumatic loss.

Recommendations

The report concludes that effective therapeutic interventions to end youth violence are reliant on applied cultural competency and recommends pragmatic steps for service improvement. The report’s recommendations are aimed at institutions and government bodies working with families and young people. These include:

  • Cultural competency training at all system levels and clinical supervision for all front-facing practitioners.
  • Multi-layered intervention designs that combine formal, informal and creative therapies with long-term engagement and community co-production.
  • Collaborative referral management systems and community case mapping for holistic work with young people and families.
  • Cohesive and effective partnership work, bringing together families, services, agencies and institutions through culturally competent organisations with the capacity to connect people and services.

Implications for practice

  • These findings emphasise the importance of culturally competent and trauma-informed therapeutic practice, with practitioners being conscious of contexts and language surrounding violence affecting communities.
  • More needs to be done to understand, consider and respond to the impact of violence on girls and young women, through the development of gender-specific interventions and long-term support.
  • A therapeutic approach must ensure that frontline practitioners receive structured, accessible, consistent therapeutic support and clinical supervision to preserve their wellbeing alongside those they work with.

Read more in CYP Now's Youth Justice Special Report

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