Preventing and addressing antisocial behaviour - improving our approach
Early intervention work can allow agencies to develop and build good community relations and also earn and maintain trust. Such work is preventative and has a focus on supporting those at risk of engaging in antisocial behaviour as well as those who have been the victim of it. Such approaches can be resource intensive with the aim being about delivering long-term changes in communities.
The majority of respondents saw early intervention work as crucial in preventing antisocial behaviour. Better use of ‘referral’ systems and pathways, as well as partnership working and breaking down silos were all mentioned as important in improving early intervention.
Early intervention and young people
When building relations with, and opportunities for, young people, it was felt important to work in partnership with communities to identify gaps in the provision of things such as positive diversionary activities and programmes, safe outdoor spaces and community hubs.
Young people themselves felt that activities should be available for them during the evenings and weekends within well-designed safe environments. The lack of safe community spaces and youth work provision was highlighted by those who had engaged in antisocial behaviour themselves.
Early intervention and education
Embedded within the Curriculum for Excellence, which reflects and recognises the lifelong nature of education and learning, is a theme aimed at helping children and young people to become good, thoughtful and responsible members of their community and wider society. Most groups were very supportive of this approach, and of the preventative activities and public health messaging already taking place in schools. However, some people felt there should be a greater focus on these activities.
Suggestions were made about the value of collaborative working with the likes of Education Scotland to tackle antisocial behaviour more clearly within the curriculum. It was also suggested that national resources to promote good behaviour, such as communications on public transport, could be developed. It was noted that for communications to be effective with young people, it can be helpful to involve and engage young people in their development.
Concerns were expressed that the extent of preventative work had diminished in recent years, and that this pattern of constraints to resources was continually affecting local authorities and wider public sector partners.
It was felt that key community roles, that focussed on preventative work had also been eroded including community policing and wardens. It was noted that experienced staff were hard to replace. It was mentioned that some community safety roles had been “diluted” meaning that some staff were now more likely to be involved in reactive response approaches, as well as other duties, such as parking enforcement, instead of building community relationships.
This was seen by some as adversely impacting on establishing relations within communities and putting a strain on remaining staff, who faced increased pressures to deliver with shrinking resources. It was also noted that professionals must have sufficient resources to be properly supported in their roles.
Police and civil enforcement resources were also noted as being affected by resource considerations. Reference was made by some participants to delays in court procedures which could be frustrating.
Although, at a national level, overall drug funding provision has been increasing, feedback referred to cuts to wider services, such as those dealing with public health, supporting social care services, as well as mediation services to help settle community disputes. These cuts were also felt to have had an impact in reducing the ability to address antisocial behaviour. In addition, it was considered that voluntary and community services were affected by resource pressures, including community resources, sports and youth work.
Some minority groups reported that they felt antisocial behaviour and hate crime were closely connected and considered to be a driver for the antisocial behaviour they had experienced. In Scotland, the law currently recognises hate crime based on prejudice towards the following groups: disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.
Once in force, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 will maintain current legislative protections against offences aggravated by prejudice towards disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity (which as present includes protection for those with variations in sex characteristics). The Act will also - for the first time - include protections against offences aggravated by prejudice towards a person’s age.
One victim support representative advised that, during a particular year, nearly all of their antisocial behaviour referrals were related to hate crime. Others felt that some public sector bodies do not properly consider equality requirements within their antisocial behaviour policies/approach. Some communities were wary of reporting issues to the police through, for example, fear of retaliations or lack of trust with the authorities.
We heard that there was a need to improve the data collected on antisocial behaviour to provide a better evidence base for how this impacts different communities.
The Scottish Government published a new Hate Crime Strategy on 24 March 2023. The Strategy sets out a vision for a Scotland where everyone lives free from hatred and prejudice, and where our communities are empowered, inclusive and safe. It makes a number of commitments, including ensuring improved support for victims of hate crime, improving data and evidence on hate crime and developing effective approaches to preventing hate crime. It will also support the implementation of the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021. A delivery plan, setting out the immediate and longer term activity, will be published later this year.
Some respondents had experienced misogyny which had led to antisocial behaviour harassment and considered that the gendered aspect of antisocial behaviour should more clearly be recognised.
There was general agreement that young people, in particular, could be tarred with an “antisocial behaviour brush”, especially by the media. Importantly, the point was made that those engaging in antisocial behaviour vary significantly. Challenging media narratives was seen as important in confronting stigma and discrimination. Stereotypes could pigeon-hole victims, and those engaging in antisocial behaviour, which could result in victims being less likely to report issues as they felt they would not be taken sufficiently seriously.
Mistrust of authorities
Feelings of discrimination, were thought to lead to a mistrust of authorities, such as the statutory and non-statutory agencies, which in turn could result in less likelihood of antisocial behaviour being reported. Some minority groups felt frontline workers could express discriminatory attitudes and professionals recognised that these mistrust issues existed. There was general agreement that people engage more with those they trust and that lack of trust presented a real problem.
Greater understanding of others
In terms of community cohesion, it was felt there was a need for a greater understanding of one another. Work to address this could include projects to break down barriers, promote greater understanding of the impact of behaviours and challenge intergenerational mistrust.
Respondents considered there to be a need to better understand those in distress who were committing antisocial behaviour but might be experiencing trauma and other mental health issues. Developing our understanding, of the drivers of antisocial behaviour, will be helpful in reframing the response of a community to an individual. In a wider context, this was also seen as helpful in terms of enhancing the community’s understanding and tolerance of the issues.
It was suggested it might be helpful to promote more positive pro-social stories in the media, such as good community work and education (in schools and in the community), which could be key in supporting understanding of others, in terms of the causes and impacts of antisocial behaviour.
The significance of real community engagement and co-production (different organisations and communities working together to design and deliver services) was endorsed, as a way to support and empower communities to deal with and prevent antisocial behaviour better. By tapping into lived experiences, including that of minority communities, better policy could deepen our understanding and develop effective solutions.
Some people felt that it was important that local authorities were in tune with communities’ needs, as this would enable statutory and non-statutory agencies to focus on the real lived experiences of communities and thereby achieve better outcomes for those concerned. One suggestion was for local Community Planning Partnerships to have a particular requirement to promote community cohesion.
Community-led solutions were considered to better address community issues and “trusted services”, such as the emergency and voluntary sector services, were seen as most effective in preventing and tackling antisocial behaviour. The police, it was suggested, also had a crucial role in building community relationships and trust through their community police officers getting to know those in local communities.
It was noted that good training and support for community officers was essential. It was also noted that school police liaison officers can be very helpful in building trust and relations with young people. Additionally, it was felt that the development of policies and provision should involve communities and democratic processes, to empower the communities that they aim to benefit.
It was recognised that a lack of joined-up working (working in isolation and silos) was sometimes prevalent with those dealing with antisocial behaviour. This presented a significant challenge to effective and necessary partnership working, and barriers to the provision of a more holistic approach which can serve communities better. Some endorsed the need for greater collaboration and multiagency working. This need for more joined-up working affected government too.
Partnership work was felt to have been impacted by limited funding resources, but it was acknowledged that, in order to counter these restrictions, innovative work could nonetheless take place in terms of working collaboratively with partners, potentially sharing resources and services.
Working in partnership was considered the most effective way, in addressing and preventing antisocial behaviour, whilst providing support to individuals and communities. When working with other partners, it was suggested that clear communication and guidance outlining different types of antisocial behaviour was helpful to identify which service was best to engage with and options for resolution.
It was also suggested that it may be valuable to bring together the police, social work and health services and examples of best practice were given, including co-located shared hubs with community safety partners where greater information sharing, communication and collaboration can take place.
The benefits of having more joined-up services with multi-agency partnerships, such as addiction support, community mental health and social services, was endorsed. By working in a more holistic way and using a public health, whole systems approach, it was felt that this might better collectively address the widespread issues that often need to be taken account of in addressing antisocial behaviour.
It was suggested that improvements to data sharing and referrals were needed, to improve effectiveness and collaboration, taking into account control requirements such as the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). Subject to these provisions, the need to share data on a need-to-know basis was emphasised, as was the need to ensure that the human rights of all individuals were being respected.
Person-centred and trauma-informed approach
The benefits of a person-centred and trauma informed approach in building relationships and preventing antisocial behaviour through constructive, compassionate and healthy engagement were widely endorsed.
If possible, it was suggested that by working holistically to better understand the needs of the individual’s antisocial behaviour using a person-centred and trauma-informed approach to take account of other issues that are going on in their lives, could be more effective in preventing antisocial behaviour. Examples are provided of person-centred approaches in the Feedback section of the report.
These approaches complement a holistic approach, in terms of providing support and signposting to victims and those committing antisocial behaviour. This involves co-ordination with partners, and staff trained in a trauma-informed, person-centred and whole family approaches. Signposting people to a range of informal support options was also suggested as helpful, for example drop-in cafes, gyms, exercise or meditation.
Most respondents felt there was more to be done in terms of adopting these approaches and that there were important benefits for both victims and those committing antisocial behaviour.
Better support for victims
Some respondents felt that the existing processes for dealing with antisocial behaviour could exacerbate victims’ distress and impact on their mental health and feeling of isolation. Victims reported they felt that the people committing antisocial behaviour received more support than they did, and it was important they were listened to and kept updated. The approach and time spent by staff in updating and involving victims was considered to be beneficial. But it was noted that, at times, this required intensive resource. Some felt there was a need for authorities to be held to account in terms of progress of cases and there was merit in considering data to facilitate this analysis.
Managing people’s expectations was seen as necessary so that they had a realistic idea of the work involved to secure sufficient robust evidence. Otherwise, this could lead to dissatisfaction about the process as well as about the service being provided.
Support for victims was also required when legal matters arose and courts were involved.
It was highlighted that it could be frustrating for victims to have to repeat issues to different staff and a single person of contact would be especially helpful.
It was suggested that it may be helpful to have guidance and information for victims which was up-to-date, clear, consistent and well communicated. This could include signposting and information on different types of antisocial behaviour, and the range of engagement and resolution options available.
Respondents felt that effective mental health and counselling, especially in connection with trauma, as well as other therapeutic support, should be available for victims. Victim Support Scotland (VSS) and other agencies were seen to provide valuable services but it was noted that some partners providing support services for victims were facing funding and capacity issues.
Support for people committing antisocial behaviour
Access to therapeutic and recovery services, and more mental health support services, linked closely with alcohol and drug support services, were highlighted as an essential and effective way to prevent and support those committing antisocial behaviour. It was suggested that engagement should continue after any legal processes, as that was arguably when people needed support most.
Support for professionals who deal with antisocial behaviour
It was felt vital to support staff as they often deal with difficult, challenging situations and behaviour. In supporting their resilience and morale, up to date training was also considered to be important, including on the use of trauma-informed approaches, social media and technology. Access to sufficient, supportive resources and technology such as noise equipment should also be considered.
Public sector services
Most respondents felt that effective, multi-agency partnerships and joined-up working, was essential, particularly in terms of preventative work. Examples of public sector responses to antisocial behaviour are given in the Feedback section of the report including ’weeks of action’ from the authorities and partners with an antisocial behaviour focus.
In summary, respondents considered that public sector services should:
- Prioritise a more visible community presence including police and community wardens.
- Encourage increased collaboration and multi-agency working.
- Be less outcomes focused instead more whole-systems focussed to secure lasting resolutions.
- Aim to make ‘every contact count’, and get referrals and early intervention ‘right’, with the focus being on the long-term.
- Take a longer term, person-centred approach.
- Prioritise cutting waiting lists and having support there when it is needed.
- Be more inclusive of those with additional requirements, e.g. hearing and sight impairments, English as a second language (ESOL).
- Not lose the lessons from the pandemic and ‘build back better’.
- Be more accountable around trauma-informed practice and the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Safe Community Spaces
Community hubs and place-based support were regarded to be trusted locally and were seen as a safe environment. Work that takes place in these spaces is ‘asset-based’ and includes peer mentoring; diversionary activities; youth work; intergenerational work and poverty interventions.
It was suggested that communities could potentially use these spaces to seek local solutions to antisocial behaviour issues and they had the benefit of providing a more neutral place to report concerns.
Refreshed approach to antisocial behaviour
The following section sets out areas where improvements could be made for further consideration. These represent a significant amount of work and there is a need to consider what can be taken forward as a part of a phased long-term approach to addressing antisocial behaviour.
There are many different types of antisocial behaviour which require varied approaches. Some respondents saw the value of a broad definition as this allows for more individualised local responses. Many, however, felt the current definition of antisocial behaviour was too broad and vague. There are varying interpretations and thresholds of what is considered to be antisocial behaviour within different social groups and communities. This can make it hard to decide when intervention is beneficial. Therefore, the development of a standard definition was felt to be helpful.
Reporting antisocial behaviour
It was considered that improvements could be made to the processes for reporting antisocial behaviour to make it easier for victims, particularly those who are vulnerable or have additional support needs. It was also noted that the UK Government’s Antisocial Behaviour Action Plan, refers to planned improvements in how antisocial behaviour is reported and acted upon.
Those with English as a second language, needed more clarity around who, and where, to report antisocial behaviour and reporting pathways could be made clearer. It was also suggested that the availability of reporting of issues at the evening and weekend be considered with the possibility of a national helpline.
Fears of retaliation, as a victim or a bystander (in reporting or intervening in antisocial behaviour), were shared, particularly by minority ethnic and community-based groups in relation to hate crime incidents. Wherever possible, anonymity was important to give victims confidence and reassurance.
The need for sufficient evidence as well as the required paperwork from victims when reporting was viewed by some respondents as off-putting and a potential barrier.
It was reflected that the legislation and guidance were written at a time before the impact of social media was understood and, when our understanding of mental health issues, including the importance of trauma-informed practice, was not well understood. Some respondents considered that existing legislation and tools were sufficient but a question around using these effectively exists due to the pressure on staff resources.
Other respondents felt that the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004, did not provide sufficient flexibility to tackle more complex issues and some authorities used Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 and Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007: code of practice when appropriate.
Some respondents felt that evidence relating to social media required to be reviewed, in connection with antisocial behaviour processes, and that updating the legislation should be considered.
Since the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004, social media and technology have grown exponentially which had impacted on antisocial behaviour. Online antisocial behaviour, was linked to hate crime and cyber bullying, and was described as visible to only the victim and the people committing antisocial behaviour unless the victim/s chose to share this. Online views can also become entrenched, and disputes can quickly be shared, sometimes with incorrect information, amongst neighbourhoods and escalate at the ‘touch of a button’.
Suggestions about the legislation, which could be examined further, included:
- Updating legislation to deal with current issues, such as social media and transport.
- Making the penalties between rented and private accommodation the same.
- Having legislative powers for preventative approaches, support and referrals.
- Reducing the threshold for an Interim Anti-Social Behaviour Order.
- Finding more creative court disposals for those found guilty of offences.
- It was highlighted that there were thresholds between civil and criminal law which affected being able to share data.
- Considering whether it is possible to include mandatory conditions for individuals to engage with professional support services such as addiction services.
Suggestions about the legal guidance on antisocial behaviour included:
- Making clearer what laws pertain to Scotland and not England.
- Ensuring all Local Authority constituents (residents and those living, studying, or working in an area) have access to up-do-date and consistent information.
Diverging opinions were shared during discussions about how best to respond to antisocial behaviour. Some respondents wanted tougher enforcement, and more consequences to antisocial behaviour, which they considered would act as a deterrent. Most supported a more person-centred approach.
It was noted that victims, and elected members, could push enforcement action when other dynamics required consideration, for example, more support for the person/s engaging in antisocial behaviour.
There were mixed views on the effectiveness of fines. It was felt that on-the-spot penalties could be helpful in making action quicker, and easier, in terms of intervention and justice, but views were shared that they create an administrative burden and may discourage engagement with support services and change of behaviour. The complexities that surround the effectiveness of evictions were also considered.
A point was raised that Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs) only worked for a small percentage of first-time offenders and were not legally binding. Therefore they were not considered a real deterrent to reoffending. Public transport operators pointed to a lack of powers to enable them to deal with antisocial behaviour, particularly with young people.
Alternatives to penalties and arrest
It was acknowledged that flexibility in enforcement approaches currently existed and these options were regarded as important, especially where penalty responses were not appropriate. Many felt alternatives to legal enforcement could be a better way to support those who commit antisocial behaviour in terms of preventing further offending.
It was considered important, wherever possible, not to criminalise young people and also to make efforts to understand people’s behaviour, to enable support to be provided, where appropriate, especially in terms of rehabilitation.
It was also noted that tougher enforcement could sometimes cause friction and increase antisocial behaviour.
Mediation and restorative justice services
Some respondents advocated for the use of mediation and restorative justice services, where appropriate, in responding to antisocial behaviour. Mediation was felt to be an effective tool to consider other people’s viewpoints, although this is subject to both parties’ agreement. Where behaviour is particularly offensive or harmful this may not be appropriate.
Restorative justice can be an effective tool for some people in effecting behavioural change and facilitating a better understanding of the impact of someone’s behaviour.
It was noted that there are some aspects of this in the UK Government’s Antisocial Behaviour Action Plan. Although this can help some victims, and provide reassurance that their concerns are being considered, it is important to ensure that this is done carefully to avoid power imbalances and unconscious bias, including racial bias.
It was noted that these services were not universally available across the country.
It was suggested that private landlords should be reminded of their responsibilities in terms of antisocial behaviour and the consequences of failing to address these issues.
There was not a universal approach to how all housing associations (social housing landlords) deal with antisocial behaviour. Some had their own antisocial behaviour officers benefiting from local knowledge whilst others left it to the statutory authorities to lead on the response. This meant that support and approaches varied dramatically across the country. It was felt that more work could potentially be done with social housing landlords to offer advice to ensure complaints are dealt with effectively and more consistently.
It was suggested that social housing landlords should be more sensitive and take into account a person’s specific needs and circumstances, So that, for example, a woman fleeing violence is not homed next to a male with a history of aggressive behaviour. Some respondents felt young people should receive more support to manage their first tenancies and understand their responsibilities to their neighbours and wider communities.
It was suggested that new housing developments should include Police Architectural Liaison Officers, at the design stage and safe neighbourhoods should have well-lit street lighting, appropriate CCTV, safe walking routes and green and open spaces.
Advocating a Refreshed Approach to antisocial behaviour
Overall, there appeared to be support from the statutory agencies and others for a refreshed more preventative and supportive focus in preventing antisocial behaviour from occurring in the first place. Some feedback suggested that an approach focussing on more uniform outcomes to antisocial behaviour was needed.
Further consideration of a refresh could consider the following issues:
- Legislation and guidance
- Reporting including support and outcomes
- General approach including partnership working and public information
- Person centred and trauma-informed approach
Evidence-based approaches and evaluation were endorsed in taking forward any revised antisocial behaviour policy and intervention to make sure there are no unintended consequences. Some respondents were concerned about any over emphasis on outcomes as it can be difficult to evidence preventative work.
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