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Could addressing trauma help us address crime?

New research finds promising results for therapies that address trauma – but we need more evidence on staff training

  • New research has found that specialist therapies that support children to recover from trauma could significantly reduce their chance of getting involved in violence.
  • While these therapies do seem promising, there’s very little evidence on the effectiveness of other practices that address trauma, like redesigning services to prevent re-traumatisation or training practitioners to recognise and respond to trauma in their everyday work.
  • That’s why, in September 2022, the Youth Endowment Fund (in partnership with the Home Office) will open applications to a new grant round. They’ll fund projects in youth justice, education or children’s social care services to find out how making staff training or organisational policies and processes trauma-informed could help to keep children safe from violence. 

The Youth Endowment Fund – a charity with a £200 million Home Office endowment and a mission to prevent children and young people from becoming involved in violence – has today released new research in their flagship Toolkit, which finds that helping children and young people to overcome traumas might be a highly effective way of preventing violence.

According to the independent charity’s new analysis of UK and international evidence, making sure that children get therapy that specifically focuses on addressing trauma  is one promising way to help prevent them from becoming involved in crime and violence later in their life. But this analysis is only based on 4 studies, which is why the Youth Endowment Fund recommends more investment in building an understanding of how children who’ve experienced trauma can get the support they need to be protected from violence.

Two different approaches to addressing trauma: what we know about trauma-specific therapies and trauma-informed training and service redesign

The new Toolkit analysis on trauma-specific therapies, builds on existing research that’s already shown that there’s a link between children and young people’s experience of emotional or physical harm and later involvement in violence. But it’s important to note that the new strand (covering specific therapies, like Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), which focuses on modifying unhelpful and faulty beliefs related to trauma) is distinct from other work the Youth Endowment Fund has published on trauma-informed training and service redesign. These are programmes that seek to improve practitioner understanding and responses to trauma, within the various services or activities they deliver.

At the moment, the Youth Endowment Fund haven’t found enough evidence to say whether this trauma-informed training is effective at keeping children safe from involvement in crime and violence. That’s why, in September 2022, they’ll open applications for a new grant round co-funded with the Home Office. They’re looking to find out what difference trauma-informed practice has on keeping children safe from violence.

To see if your trauma-informed training, policy or process is the right fit for funding, you can use the YEF’s grant round eligibility checker.

More about the Youth Endowment Fund Toolkit

Trauma-specific therapies is a new approach that the Youth Endowment Fund has added to its Toolkit, alongside updated evidence on Multi-Systemic Therapy, a family therapy programme for children at risk of placement in either care or custody. The Toolkit is a free online resource that summarises the best available research on what works – and what doesn’t – to reduce youth violence. Each approach included in the Toolkit (like trauma-specific therapies) is ranked according to its average impact on preventing serious violence (from ‘high’ to ‘harmful’ or ‘unknown’) and is given a score to indicate the quality of the associated research.

The Youth Endowment Fund Toolkit ranks trauma-specific therapiesas having a ‘high’ impact on violent crime.  However, the evidence security rating is very low. That means that more research is needed to be confident in the ‘high’ impact rating. Other approaches that are likely to be highly effective at reducing youth violence include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a talking therapy which helps people recognise and manage negative thoughts and behaviours and social skills training, which supports children to think before they act, understand other people’s perspectives, communicate effectively, and use strategies for managing impulsiveness or aggression.

Jon Yates, Executive Director at the Youth Endowment Fund, said: “To help every child live a life free from violence, local authorities and other commissioners need to invest in activities that are backed by evidence. The Toolkit is here to help. It presents research in a way that’s easy to access and easy to understand. By using it alongside local expertise and knowledge, it can help service leaders find the ‘best bets’ – approaches that are likely to make a difference to children who are often in really vulnerable situations.

Our Toolkit shows that trauma-specific therapies are likely to be highly effective. When used alongside other evidence-based approaches that protect vulnerable children from harm and exploitation, we can protect children and prevent violence before it happens.”

Keith Fraser, Chair of the Youth Justice Board said: “We welcome the Youth Endowment Fund’s new investment into trauma-informed practice. This is an important area of focus for us and there is a lot of exciting activity going on. The more the youth justice system can build on its knowledge and expertise and develop meaningful relationships with children, the greater the impact it will have on improving outcomes for them.

“In Wales, trauma informed approaches and services are now a part of its Youth Justice Blueprint. The learning, from projects such as the Cwm Taf pathfinder, is helping practitioners develop assessment and intervention planning through a trauma informed lens. It is also informing practice in England and a project in the South West has enabled local partners to evidence the effectiveness of this approach. It is essential that we boost the knowledge of our youth justice workforce, which is why in 2020 we launched a new trauma-informed Effective Practice Award which has been in consistently high demand.”