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New report finds that violence – and fear of violence – has far-reaching effects on children in England and Wales today

The £200 million Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) today launched a new report showing that children in England and Wales are missing out on education and opportunities because of their fear of violence

  • In an online survey of 2,025 children, 39% told the YEF that they’d been directly affected by violence in the last 12 months (either as victims or witnesses).
  • Over half (55%) of children said they’d seen real life violence on social media in the last year. And nearly a quarter (24%) had seen other children carrying, promoting, or using weapons.
  • 65% of children told us they’d changed their behaviour to keep themselves safe from violence in the last 12 months. 14% had been absent from school out of fear.
  • More than a quarter (26%) want to see changes to policing (such as more patrols) to address serious violence, alongside more youth clubs and activities (15%) and drug and alcohol services (10%).

The Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) – 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 launched an innovative new report, showing how violence affects the lives of children across England and Wales. Combining a survey of 2,025 children and young people with a review of national statistics, they’ve found that violence – and fear of violence – is shaping children’s lives in ways we previously hadn’t understood. That’s because, while other surveys have asked children about their experiences of crime and violence, the YEF’s research asked children about the ways that those experiences changed their behaviour – from attendance at school, to the friends they spend time with.  

14% of children told the YEF been victims of violence* in the past 12 months. And almost two in five children (39%) said they’d been directly affected by violence, either as a victim or witness. Some children were far more likely to be affected than others; 60% children who were supported by a social worker said they’d been directly affected, while 55% of children that regularly miss classes and 46% receiving free school meals said they’d experienced violence as victims or witnesses.

The YEF also asked about online violence. More than half (55%) of children told the charity that they’d come across violent content on social media, with one in five (20%) saying they’d seen content that was gang-related and almost a quarter (24%) having seen material that involved weapons.

These experiences have real consequences. 65% of children told the YEF that they’ve felt the need to change the way they live just to keep themselves safe. For 14%, that even meant missing school. Among children who had been victims of violence in the last year, half said they’d skipped classes out of fear of serious violence.

So what do children think needs to be done? The YEF asked young people how they want adults to address serious violence, and the most common responses mentioned policing (26%) – children wanted more visible patrols to tackle the problems in their communities. They also said they want to see more activities for young people (15%) and better drug and alcohol support services (10%).

Violence isn’t inevitable – it’s preventable. Understanding children’s experiences is a vital first step to making change. But we also need to make sure that we’re listening to and acting on what they tell us. That way, we can make sure that violence – and the harm that it causes – is no longer a part of any child’s life.

* Please see the notes to editors for the YEF’s definition of violence – which differs from some other crime and justice surveys.

Jon Yates, Executive Director at the Youth Endowment Fund, said: “Violence is a scourge on many of children’s lives. Work by the government, public sector workers and charities can make a huge difference to reduce violence. Less violence means fewer children skipping school, fewer children missing sleep and fewer children losing out on opportunities. This makes the biggest difference to the children who are most likely to see and experience violence – those from minority backgrounds, those on free school meals and those who’ve been supported by a social worker.

“At the YEF, our work goes beyond understanding serious violence. We’re here to find out what works to solve the problem. Together with partners across the country we’re finding what works to keep children safe. Violence is not inevitable. Together we can keep children safe from violence and give them richer, happier, safer lives.”

Davelle, member of the Youth Advisory Board of the Youth Endowment Fund and Nottingham resident said: “It is saddening and shocking to see how violence, directly and indirectly, affects the lives of so many young people. No child should have to walk to school in fear or feel the need to carry a weapon when they’re out enjoying themselves. Surely it falls to us to make our streets a safer place.”

Fatou, member of the Youth Advisory Board of the Youth Endowment Fund and West Yorkshire resident said: “Unfortunately, I was not surprised by most of the report’s findings, especially when it comes to children being exposed to violence through social media. I’ve got younger siblings. It worries me how accessible this type of content can be to them. What worries me the most is that seeing violence everywhere you go has become the norm. People and especially children are desensitised to the horror that circulates around – and that’s really sad.” 

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “We need to understand what children in England want and need from adults, so that we can make the best possible decisions to support and protect them. That’s why I commissioned The Big Ask and why, today, the Youth Endowment Fund has released important research on the tragedy of violence and how it’s shaping children’s day-to-day experiences. “The Children, violence and vulnerability report shows us that far too many children have experienced violence. That has real consequences, with children all of over the country telling the YEF that violence – and fear of being a victim – is leading them to miss out on school, sports and other opportunities. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By working together on further research, evidence and understanding, we can find out what works to end violence and make sure every child gets the evidence-led support they deserve.”

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About the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF) and why we invested in this research

The YEF is a charity with a mission that matters. We’re here to prevent children and young people becoming involved in violence. We do this by finding out what works and building a movement to put this knowledge into practice. We were established in 2019 with a ten-year £200m endowment from the Home Office.

We invested in this report because we want to change things to make children and young people safer. Most of our work involves investing in evaluations, so that we can build our knowledge of which programmes and practices work; and that’s critical to our mission. But just as important is finding out about children and young people’s lives. The Children, violence and vulnerability report is one way we’re going about this. It’s helped us to build a better understanding of children, young people, and their families. Because by understanding the impact of violence on children’s daily lives, we can make better decisions by directly responding to their needs.

The YEF Toolkit can be accessed here:

About the YEF’s Children, violence and vulnerability report

  • The full report is available to download here.
  • Our definition of violence: When asking children about their experiences of violence, we used the following definition:

“By violent crime, we mean the use of force or threat of force against another person or people, for example punching someone, threatening someone with a weapon, or mugging someone. This also includes sexual assault, which is when somebody intentionally touches someone in a sexual way without their consent.”

  • About the survey: We conducted an online survey of 13-17-year-olds with help from our research partner, Crest Advisory, and online survey provider, Walr. Fieldwork was conducted over 8 weeks, from 25/04/2022 to 10/06/2022, and recruited a sample of 2,025 teenage children across England and Wales. Responses are weighted to ensure they were representative of the age, gender, and regional distribution of the population of England and Wales as a whole.

More information about the survey method can be found in the report’s annex.

  • Points to consider when interpreting the report’s findings: children were recruited to provide a representative sample of 13 to 17-year-olds in terms of age, gender, and regional distribution across England and Wales. Although the data was weighted to reflect the population of England and Wales as a whole based on these factors, this weighting only used a limited number of factors. Although we believe our sample to be representative, it’s possible not all results are generalisable.

Children were recruited into the survey through our survey panel provider and had the option not to take part. The self-selecting nature of the response may have biased the results.

While the overall sample size (over 2,000 respondents) provides us with rich insights, we acknowledge that when we cut the results by smaller sub-groups (such as gender, ethnicity and region) the numbers get smaller. In the report, we highlight where results between groups are statistically significant from each other and the uncertainty in these estimates for key breakdowns.

Consideration should also be given to the sensitivity of the subject matter and the impact this may have had on our respondents. We can’t discount the possibility that some children may have been unwilling to admit to acts of violence or confirm that they had been affected by different types of violence. Around a third of children opted out of answering more detailed questions on the specific types of violence they might have experienced, and a similar amount didn’t answer questions about the violence they may have committed. Response rates to all other questions were generally high.

Finally, caution should be taken when comparing our results with the results from other surveys. In the report, we provide a comparison between our survey and the Crime Survey of England and Wales and explain why our results differ. Differences in the make-up of who responded, the way children were asked to complete the survey, the phrasing of questions and the time periods covered mean the results are not directly comparable. Our results provide a baseline for understanding how teenage children experienced violence (as it’s been defined in this survey). We’ll use it to track statistically significant changes in future updates to the survey.   

About the Youth Advisory Board

The YEF can their mission to prevent violence if they put children and young people becoming involved in violence. That’s why they’ve partnered with Leaders Unlocked, who support their Youth Advisory Board (YAB) of over 20 young people from all over England and Wales. YAB members are represented in YEF’s governance structures (including at board-level), so that young people with lived experience of violence are able to:

  • Shape YEF’s decisions and influence they we spend almost £200m of funding on programmes to prevent young people becoming involved in violence.
  • Help YEF generate new ideas and approaches.

All YAB members are fully supported, trained and remunerated.