What works: Improving outcomes for children of gang-involved parents

This paper presents what we know about interventions and strategies to improve outcomes for children with gang-involved parents.

The findings of this paper indicate that comprehensive, multi-faceted interventions are more likely than narrowly focused approaches to be effective in addressing the social harms associated with gangs, including improving outcomes for the children of gang-involved parents.
What works: Improving outcomes for children of gang-involved parents found that children of gang-involved parents are at greater risk of being abused, neglected, exposed to violence between parents, entering into the youth justice system and joining a gang.
Based on available evidence, the paper was unable to conclude whether having a gang-involved parent was an independent risk factor for negative outcomes for the child.  However, it is likely that children growing up in a gang-involved family have greater exposure to risk factors known to be associated with poor life outcomes.
At present, there is only a small body of evidence on the impacts of gang membership on the children of gang members. More primary research is needed in order to better understand the direct impacts on children’s health, wellbeing, education, employment outcomes and criminality into adulthood.
This information is provided to inform social sector decisions - about funding, policies and services – to help to address the wider context of New Zealand families with multiple complex problems and improve the lives of families and whānau.
Reducing the social harm to families and children connected with gangs is a key focus in the 2014 Whole-of-Government Action Plan to Reduce the Harms caused by New Zealand Adult Gangs and Transnational Crime Groups.
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Key Results

There is little evidence on child outcomes associated with having gang-involved parents and a lack of evaluations for initiatives.

Children of gang-involved parents are considered at risk of negative social outcomes. At present we cannot conclude, based on the research, that having a gang-involved parent is an independent risk factor. However, it is likely that children growing up in a gang-involved family are exposed to known risk factors. The literature suggests that having a gang-involved parent may place children at greater risk for child abuse and neglect, exposure to violence between parents, falling out of mainstream education, entering the youth justice system and joining a gang themselves.

Further research is needed to increase our understanding of the risk factors for children associated with growing up in a gang household as well as the long-term implications. We also need to develop evidence-based initiatives for this group of children aimed at improving outcomes for them, as well as outcome evaluations of existing initiatives.

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