Irish Penal Reform Trust

Scotland: What Works to Prevent Youth Violence

16th February 2021

From mentoring to parenting training and out of school activities, a new report looks at the evidence of what works to reduce youth violence. The report was written by Scottish Violence Reduction Unit’s (SVRU) Dr. Kristen Russell in association with the Scottish Government’s Justice Analytical Services and summarises the available international evidence on the effectiveness of a variety of interventions.

The focus of the report is on primary prevention initiatives which look to stop young engaging in violence by targeting the factors which put them more at risk. There is strong evidence that school and education-based interventions are effective in preventing youth violence.

Key Findings


  • Effective interventions consist of school and education-based programmes such as bullying prevention programmes and social and emotional learning programmes. This is due to the fact that there is evidence to suggest that programmes that seek to develop young people’s social, emotional and life skills can have a positive impact on a range of violence related outcomes.
  • Promising interventions consist of bystander programmes e.g. mentors in violence prevention. Furthermore, school-based programmes to prevent violence in dating and intimate partner relationships through developing life skills, improving knowledge of abuse, and challenging social norms and gender stereotypes that increase the risk of violence are effective. Moreover, the report finds that other promising interventions include good quality pre-school education, parenting training and education which aim to develop parenting skills and strengthen the relationship between parent and child may have positive effects on perpetration of youth violence, mentoring programmes and community coalitions.
  • Mixed interventions consist of early childhood home visitation programmes are effective. However, research is lacking within a UK setting. Moreover, there is mixed evidence that out-of-school activities such as after school provision and activities that are provided separately from education are effective and evaluation of programmes taking this approach is limited.
  • Ineffective or potentially harmful intervention include deterrence and fear-based approaches and may be associated with an increased risk of offending and their implementation should therefore be avoided.

Moderating Factors

Accounting for moderating factors, potential facilitators, and potential barriers can encourage effective implementation of these evidence-based interventions.

According to the Early Intervention Foundation, the “key principles of effective programmes” for preventing youth violence include;

  • Strategies that seek to create positive changes in the lives of youths and/or their families, as well as reduce risk factors and prevent negative outcomes.
  • The involvement of trained facilitators who are experienced in working with children and families.
  • Working with young people in their natural setting e.g. school or home.
  • Ensuring that programmes are delivered as originally designed, specified and intended e.g. high implementation fidelity.
  • Regular and/or frequent contacts e.g. regular weekly contact delivered over the school term or year.
  • Encouraging positive interactions between young people, families, teachers/schools i.e. addressing violence at individual and relationship level.
  • Delivery through interactive sessions that provide the opportunity for skills-based demonstrations and practice.


In conclusion, the impact of the Covid-19 crisis has the potential to contribute to a rise in youth violence. Moreover, the direct and indirect consequences of violence are broad, extending beyond victims and perpetrators to families and communities. As such, the evidence presented within the report can contribute to decision-making in work to prevent youth violence. From the evidence reviewed, it can be concluded that available interventions can prevent youth violence.


Read ‘What Works to Prevent Youth Violence’ on the SVRU website here.

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