Youth deviance and youth violence: A European multi-agency perspective on best practices in prevention and control (YouPrev)

In the years 2011 and 2012, the study „Youth deviance and youth violence: A European multi-agency perspective on best practices in prevention and control“ (YouPrev) has been conducted in six European countries (Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain). The main goal of the project was to deepen knowledge on prevention and control of juvenile delinquent behaviour and to make this knowledge available to relevant professional groups and institutions. Multiple methodological approaches were taken, including reviews of existing preventive approaches via expert surveys and analyses of available materials, local studies of juvenile delinquency and its prevention in urban and rural areas based upon surveys among adolescents in school contexts and on interviews with multi-professional samples of practitioners, Delphi surveys, and national and international multi-professional workshops. Manuals for continuing education of police and social work professionals were set up in each country; brochures summarizing key results and pointing out policy implications were published, and findings were presented and discussed at an international conference.

YouPrev results emphasize that juvenile delinquency is on the one hand a universal developmental phenomenon. Breaking rules is part of the process of growing up, and most adolescents commit some offences during their adolescence. At the same time, juvenile delinquency is socially embedded. Family and peers are of utmost importance. Growing up under conditions of low or unstable parental supervision, spending one’s time with delinquent friends are both highly significant risk factors for delinquent behaviour. Social disorganization of the neighbourhood is a risk factor for juvenile violence. The wider social and economic context is also a determining factor. While youth crime will in many aspects remain stable in the near and intermediate future, it will also be affected by large societal trends, especially demographic change (population ageing), technological change, and economic trends and developments.

High-quality prevention measures share common features such as being targeted at risk factors and protective factors, being directed towards at-risk populations and including early intervention, connecting multiple institutions and professions (especially police, school and social work) and including evaluative measures. YouPrev findings support the importance of tailoring specific preventive measures to the minority of repeat and persistent offenders. Given the multitude of strains and risk factors which characterize this group, the need for cooperation between social work services and the police / criminal justice system becomes evident. YouPrev findings clearly show that young people have concepts of factors influencing their behaviour and hence of delinquency prevention. Analyses of young persons’ concepts of successful crime prevention provide hints as to the accessibility of youngsters through preventive measures and agents. They stress the importance of considering interpersonal networks and informal social control as key factors for success or failure of preventive measures.