Estimated impact on violent crime:
HIGH reduction in Behavioural difficulties1 2 3 4 5
What is it?
Adventure and wilderness therapy programmes involve activities in which children and young people work together to overcome a challenge. They usually take place in outdoor settings, such as parks or forests. Most programmes involve an overnight stay away from home, ranging from one night to several weeks or months. Alongside group activities, participants may also have sessions with counsellors and therapists.
Programmes often include:
- Walking, hiking or cycling
- Camping and backpacking
- Orienteering and navigation
- Survival skills training, practical skills development, first aid, health and nutrition education
- Caving, white-water rafting, high ropes, canoeing and abseiling
- Role play and drama
Some programmes involve families in aspects of the intervention. This could include:
- Support for parents to develop parenting approaches, experiences and techniques. This can often take place while the child is away on a residential programme
- Parents taking part in the adventure activities alongside their children. This could involve children and young people teaching their parents the skills they learned during their wilderness experience.
- Family therapy sessions.
There are several potential explanations for why this approach might protect children from involvement in crime and violence. Having new experiences, learning new skills and overcoming challenges in a group setting could support improved self-esteem, communication and behaviour. Residential programmes might divert children and young people away from circumstances which may have contributed to their offending. Finally, spending time in nature could have a therapeutic effect, support self-reflection, and have a positive impact on mental health.
Is it effective?
On average, adventure and wilderness therapy is likely to have a low impact on violent crime. It is likely to have a moderate impact on reoffending.
Adventure and wilderness therapy has a high impact on behavioural difficulties, alongside improving mental health, helpful and cooperative behaviours, self-esteem, social skills and attitudes and beliefs.
The research suggests that adventure and wilderness therapy may have more positive effects for mixed gender groups and may be harmful for all male groups.
How secure is the evidence?
We have low confidence in our estimate of the average impact on violent crime.
Our estimate is based on one recent and high-quality systematic review. Our confidence is low because it is only based on five studies of low quality. There is also a lot of variation in the estimates provided by these studies.
We also have low confidence in our estimate of the average impact on reoffending. Our estimate is based on seven studies of low quality.
We have moderate confidence in our estimate of the average impact on behavioural difficulties. Our estimate is based on 11 studies of low quality.
We have high confidence in our estimate of the average impact on all offending. It is based on 17 studies and was only dropped one rating due to the amount of variation in the results across the studies.
The wider review included 46 studies and 23 process evaluations.
None of the studies that inform the estimated impact on violent offending were undertaken in the UK. The review found three studies from the UK and one from Ireland, but these studies did not measure the impact on offending and are not included.
How can you implement it well?
The research suggests that experiences of positive teamwork, trusting others and feeling valued and supported by peers increases participation in programmes and successful outcomes. Including activities that promote peer support and shared problem-solving may reduce dropouts or missed sessions.
Programmes run by staff with training in therapy tend to achieve greater impacts for children and young people. The research suggests that therapists bring difficult issues to the forefront, help children and young people to identify coping mechanisms, increase accountability for their behaviour and produce behaviour change.
Children and young people are more likely to positively engage with the programme when they have participated in setting group rules for behaviour without the involvement of leaders. This usually involves an activity to share ideas about how the group could work together and may include trust-building and problem-solving exercises.
Involve family members
Interventions that incorporate the attendance of family members at one, or multiple, sessions may contribute to positive behaviour change for children and young people. For example, some programmes include family activities that address emotional expressiveness, problem-solving in complex family situations, dealing with confrontation and behaviour management.
Manage gender dynamics
Programmes delivered for mixed gender groups have had greater impacts than those delivered for all-male groups. However, group dynamics need to be carefully managed. Some girls felt less comfortable sharing personal stories when boys were present. Sharing stories, discussing previous experiences, and exploring anxieties and feelings of conflict are important mechanisms for changes in attitudes and behaviour. Creating safe spaces to enable all children and young people to participate in discussions is key to delivering a successful programme.
Support transfer of learning
Support children and young people to transfer the learning from adventure and wilderness therapy activities and settings to experiences in the home or at school. Some programmes include post-intervention sessions that are delivered several weeks later, providing an opportunity to revisit the material covered in the programme.
How much does it cost?
On average, the cost of adventure and wilderness therapy is likely to be moderate.
This estimate is based on programmes most commonly delivered in the UK. Costs generally include equipment for activities, time for staff or teachers and food. The costs are likely to vary a large amount depending on the length of the programme.
- Adventure and wilderness therapy programmes involve activities in which children and young people work together to overcome a challenge. They usually take place in outdoor settings, such as parks or forests.
- Most programmes involve an overnight stay away from home, ranging from one night to several weeks or months.
- On average, adventure and wilderness therapy is likely to have a low impact on violent crime. It is likely to have a moderate impact on reoffending.
- The evidence is relatively weak, and we have low confidence in these findings.
- The research suggests that adventure and wilderness therapy may have more positive effects for mixed gender groups and may be harmful for all male groups.
YEF projects and evaluation
YEF funded a pilot study of the Thurston Resilience Project delivered by South Tyneside Council and Wellbeing Challenge. The programme targeted 10 to 14-year-olds who were at risk of involvement in crime and provided families with resilience skill development sessions, two residential trips and participation in a social action project. The programme aimed to build youth and family resilience to prevent anti-social behaviour.