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Social skills training

Aims to develop children’s ability to regulate their behaviour and communicate effectively.

Estimated impact on violent crime:

HIGH

Evidence quality:

1 2 3 4 5

Cost:

1 2 3

Prevention Type

  • Primary
  • Secondary

Setting

  • Community
  • School and college

Themes

  • Social skills and mental health

Other Outcomes

Evidence quality

  • HIGH increase in Self-regulation
    1 2 3 4 5

What is it?

Social skills training supports children to think before they act, understand other people’s perspectives, communicate effectively, and use strategies for managing impulsiveness or aggression. Research suggests that children who develop social skills and self-control are less likely to become involved in crime and violence.

Social skills training can be delivered through universal programmes, which work with all children, or through programmes which work in a targeted way with children who could benefit from more support. Programmes are often delivered at school through structured lessons and can vary in intensity from a single, short session to 40 or more sessions over eight months or more. School-based programmes will often be delivered by teachers with the support of training by programme staff.

Activities can include:

  • Role playing. For example, children might take on different roles in a potential conflict and practise strategies for resolving the conflict peacefully.
  • Video demonstrations of positive behaviours. For example, children might be shown examples of other children playing together and finding ways to resolve conflict.
  • Specific activities to reinforce effective delayed gratification.
  • Relaxation and deep breathing techniques which children could use to calm down if they become angry.
  • Teacher observations of children playing to monitor their development of these skills.

Is it effective?

The research suggests that, on average, the impact of social skills training on preventing violence is likely to be high. On average social skills training programmes have reduced the number of children involved in crime by 32%.

On average social skills training programmes have reduced the number of children involved in crime by 32%.

When is it most effective?

The size of the impact varies by programme.

  • Targeted programmes working with children who were already demonstrating a need for more intensive support have achieved greater impacts than universal programmes focused on primary prevention.
  • Programmes have tended to have larger impacts when working with groups of boys rather than girls.
  • Programmes had the largest impacts when working with children around the age of 9 to 10. A lower impact was found for younger children and slightly lower impact for older children.

How secure is the evidence?

We have high confidence in our estimate of the impact on violent crime.

The estimate is based on a high-quality review of many studies. Many of the original studies are randomised control trials – a strong design for understanding the impact of an intervention. The available research has directly measured the impact on crime but has not separated out the impact on violence within this.

However, we have downgraded our confidence rating because there is a lot of variation in the estimates provided by the underlying research. Although the majority of studies suggested a decrease in crime, one fifth of studies suggested that the intervention caused an increase. Potential reasons for this variation are explored in the ‘Is it effective?’ section above.

Most of the research comes from the USA. The evidence and gaps map contains three relevant studies of school-based primary prevention programmes from the UK: two evaluations of the PATHS programme and one evaluation of the SEAL programme. None of these studies measured the impact on crime but all three failed to find a sustained impact on social skills.

How can you implement it well?

We reviewed the implementation findings from the three UK evaluations mentioned above. All three studies examined school-based primary prevention programmes.

The evaluations suggested that the most frequent implementation barrier was finding time in an already busy curriculum for social skills training to take place. In one evaluation, teachers were only able to deliver half of the planned activities.

The adaptability and accessibility of teaching materials were described as an important factor in successful implementation. Teachers reported difficulties when using a programme that was developed in the USA. They were sceptical about the fit with their local culture. Some of the content did not seem to be relevant to the lives of the children in their class.

What programmes are available?

Below is a list of programmes found in the Early Intervention Foundation’s (EIF) Guidebook. The Guidebook summarises the research on programmes that aim to improve outcomes for children and young people.

How much does it cost?

On average, the cost of social skills training is likely to be moderate.

School-based primary prevention programmes are likely to have lower costs. For example, the EEF estimate that PATHS cost £11.52 per child per year. Intensive secondary prevention programmes are likely to have higher costs.

The costs are likely to include programme materials such as videos or hand outs and training and paying staff to deliver the programme. If the programme is delivered by teachers this will include the cost of teaching cover while they attend training.

Topic summary

  • On average, social skills training is likely to have a relatively large impact on violent crime. However, there is a lot of variation in the impact of programmes. While most programmes have had desirable impacts, some programmes have caused harm.
  • Targeted programmes working with children who need more intensive support have achieved greater impacts than universal programmes.
  • There has been limited research in the UK. The existing studies have focused on school-based primary prevention programmes. Future research should investigate the impact of secondary prevention programmes which have had greater success in the international literature.

EIF social and emotional skills training summary report
A summary report on the importance of social and emotional skills training and how to improve these skills, for children and young people in the UK.

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© 2022 The Youth Endowment Fund Charitable Trust. Registered Charity Number: 1185413.
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