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Children, violence and vulnerability 2022 | Youth Endowment Fund Skip to content
Published -
November 3, 2022
Research

Children, violence and vulnerability 2022

Combining a survey of 2,025 children and young people with a review of national statistics, the Children, violence and vulnerability report (written with Crest Advisory) explores the ways in which violence – and fear of violence – is shaping children’s lives.

Summary of findings


Our nationally representative survey found that:

  • 14% of teenage children had been a victim of violence in the last 12 months 
  • 39% of teens had been a victim or witness of violence in the last 12 months
  • 55% of teens said they’d seen real life acts of violence on social media in the last 12 months. 24% said they’d seen children carrying, promoting, or using weapons.
  • 65% of teens said they’d changed their behaviour to keep themselves safe from violence in the last 12 months. 14% had been absent from school out of fear. A further 14% said it caused them to lose concentration, because of worry. 16% avoided going to a social event. And 2% even said that their fear had led to them carrying a weapon.
  • 26% want to see changes to policing (such as more patrols) to address violence, alongside more youth clubs and activities (15%) and drug and alcohol services (10%).

Our review of national crime statistics shows that:

  • Violence was down in the years before the Covid-19 pandemic. 0-17 knife related hospital admissions fell 7% between 2018/19 and 2019/20.
  • During the pandemic, violence fell; robberies decreased by 34%, homicides by 20% and 0-17 hospital knife related hospital admissions by 14% between 2019/20 and 2020/21.
  • As restrictions eased, some forms of violence have returned to pre-pandemic rates while others haven’t. Robberies remain 27% below the rate in 2019/20 but homicides of 13-17-year-olds in London are higher in 2021 than in 2019.
  • Black children are increasingly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Black children make up 4% of 10–17-year-olds, 15% of arrests, 18% of children stopped and searched and 29% of children in custody – up from 17% in 2011/12.

Crime statistics

At the moment, there’s a lack of data about young people’s experiences of violence. The Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), which surveys around 2,000 children, provides a picture of levels of violence – but not of the ways that fear of violence shapes children’s behaviour. The Youth Endowment Fund’s (YEF) Children, violence and vulnerability report 2022 (CVV) fills this gap. By surveying around 2,000 children, we’ve built an understanding of who experiences violence, how violence is experienced (including online) and the ways that violence is causing harm – including reports that children are missing out on school and other opportunities out of fear. Our ten-year strategy commits us to deeply understand the lives of children and violence and build a movement behind what works to reduce youth violence. This report is a key part of this work.

The report also contains a summary of the national available data on violence and vulnerabilities. We hope that, by repeating this research over time, we’ll learn more about young people’s experiences – and therefore the points at which we can make the biggest difference in their lives through our funding.

What is violent crime?

When asking children about their experiences of violence, we used the following definition: “By violent crime, we mean the use of force or threat of force against another person or people, for example punching someone, threatening someone with a weapon, or mugging someone. This also includes sexual assault, which is when somebody intentionally touches someone in a sexual way without their consent.” Included in our definition of violence is:

  • Sexual assault: 5% of teenagers reported being the victim of sexual assault in the last 12 months (this rises to 8% for girls).
  • Being threatened by a weapon: 5% reported being threatened or assaulted with a weapon in the last 12 months (this rises to 6% for boys).
  • Being assaulted, including on school premises: for example, being pushed to the floor and punched by another pupil.
  • Being stabbed.

As adults, we sometimes treat as acceptable a level of violence among teenage children that we would see as assault among adults. We believe it is important to include violence that happens on school grounds between pupils as there’s a large body of evidence that shows a link between such behaviours in childhood and involvement in later crime and violence. For example, a meta-analysis of 41 studies shows that ‘externalising problems’ such as fighting and physical aggression in childhood significantly predicts involvement in crime. Similarly, bullying other children at school has been found to predict later offending in many longitudinal studies.  YEF’s mission focuses on prevention, so it’s important that we understand the prevalence of early problems, as well as more serious forms of violence.

Weighting the survey

The survey recruited 2,025 13–17-year-olds, including comparable numbers of girls and boys and around 400 of each age. Results were weighted by age, region and gender to ensure they mirrored the make-up of the population of England and Wales as a whole. We show in the annex to the report that weighted sample population is broadly representative of the England and Wales populations based on other characteristics, such as ethnicity, free-school-meals eligibility and parent’s education levels.

Comparison to the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW)

The Office for National Statistics regularly surveys the population about their experiences of crime. This includes a survey of 10–15-year-olds (the last time was in 2019/20 and surveyed 2,398 children). This includes asking about their experiences of violent crime. The CSEW differences from our survey in a number of ways:

  • Age-range: Our survey covers children aged 13-17, while the ONS includes 10–15-year-olds.
  • Definition of violence: Our approach to measuring violence differs in a number of ways. Firstly, we include questions about sexual violence which the ONS doesn’t. Secondly, while the specific wording for individual types of violence is similar, there are differences. Thirdly, we offer a broad introductory question about any violence experienced. The ONS survey doesn’t include this and only asks about specific incidences.
  • Delivery of the survey: Our survey is delivered online, while the CSEW is conducted face-to-face with a family member present.

Due to these differences our results and the CSEW should not be directly compared. We didn’t set out to replicate the ONS’s results. However, it’s natural to ask how the findings compare. Children in our survey were significantly more likely to report being victims of violence (14% compared to 7% in the CSEW in 2019). This is likely due to a combination of a) children being more likely to share experiences of violence in an online poll rather than when their parent or guardian is present, b) the broader definition of violence we used – our definition includes sexual violence which the CSEW doesn’t, and c)  our survey covering an old age range.

Looking for evidence of what works to prevent youth violence?

The YEF Toolkit is a free online resource that summarises the best available evidence from around the world about what works – and what doesn’t – to prevent youth violence.