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The role of the family in facilitating gang membership, criminality and exit

Summary of research undertaken for Catch22 by London Metropolitan University

The picture emerging from the research is one of families with many challenges - challenges that are sometimes seen as contributing to, but rarely as the primary cause of a young person’s gang involvement. A common theme was families struggling to retain control in the face of the pull of the streets and young people’s search for independence. Denial of, or ignorance about young people’s involvement in gangs was commonplace amongst the family members sampled. One of the reasons for this was the ‘double life’ led by gang-involved young people who took careful steps to hide their involvement from their families. When families were aware, the impact was added stress and worry. While families sometimes felt the benefits of a family member’s gang association, in most cases, the shame, stress and worry outweighed these benefits. With all these factors at play, the family’s influence on a relative’s gang exit was seldom decisive. Once a young person had made the decision to leave, a supportive family was seen as essential in smoothing the way out.