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07 July 2015
Lack of evidence underpinning work with at-risk young people, warns study

Lack of evidence underpinning work with at-risk young people, warns study

Approaches to tackle harmful sexual behaviour, violence and substance misuse among Scotland’s young people suffer from a lack of evidence, a new study has found.

The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice (CYCJ), a leading think-tank, warned that the evidence base has “not yet kept pace with developments in youth justice”.

A team of researchers, which included representation from the Risk Management Authority, examined 98 peer-reviewed journal articles published since the start of 2007.


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Evidence in relation to assessment and interventions for young people involved in high-risk behaviours of harmful sexual behaviour, violence and substance misuse is “somewhat limited”, the group found, with studies often producing contradictory results.

The authors warned a “dearth of research” from within the UK or Scotland exists, while a number of well-known interventions being used stem from an evidence base “developed some time ago”.

The CYCJ report concluded: “There is a clear need to generate more home-grown evidence, as many of the assessments, interventions and practices that are currently used in Scotland with young people displaying high-risk behaviours are underpinned by a strong theoretical base, but lack sufficient research to draw firm conclusions about outcomes and effectiveness.”

The area of substance misuse among vulnerable at-risk young people is one that “desperately needs further attention”, according to the study. 

“The lack of a validated risk measurement tool and mixed outcomes as a result of interventions suggests that this is an area of study that would benefit from a comprehensive review in its own right,” said the report.

“Although serious and extremely worrying for families and societies, the risk posed by young people exhibiting sexually harmful behaviour and those who violently offend is proportionately much lower than the risk of young people misusing substances, yet there is not the equivalent research interest in this area that might have been expected.”

The CYCJ report does, however, suggest greater use of interventions involving family members are “worth fuller consideration”.

“It certainly appears that investment in family-oriented approaches may have the potential to improve outcomes across a range of high-risk behaviours, although there is little homegrown evidence to indicate with any certainty that these approaches will work here, in Scotland, today,” added the report.

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