Home > Understanding and addressing anti-social behaviour: a rapid evidence review.

Vaughan, Elena and Vaughan, Eoin and Kelly, Colette and Nic Gabhainn, Saoirse (2022) Understanding and addressing anti-social behaviour: a rapid evidence review. Dublin: Department of Justice.

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Introduction: Anti-social behaviour (ASB) is a broad term often used to describe a range of actions and behaviours that violate social norms in specific contexts. Anti-social behaviours are often associated with youth, however this is not an issue that is singularly confined to young people. Anti-social behaviours can have a negative impact on individuals, families and communities, affect mental and physical and well-being and are associated with considerable social and fiscal costs to society. The purpose of this review was to gather and synthesise all high quality peerreviewed international and national literature on anti-social behaviour, in order to help inform policy development in relation to anti-social behaviour in Ireland. 

Methods: A rapid review approach was used for this evidence review. Rapid review methods involve systematic evidence syntheses techniques and a quick turnaround, in order to help inform decision-making around best-practices in a specific policy context (Tricco et al., 2017). Systematic concept searches, using relevant key terms were run in three databases to search for peer-reviewed literature. Searches were also conducted for pertinent grey literature. A total of 3,085 studies were identified. A Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) flow diagram was used to keep track of records. Independent screening against inclusion/exclusion criteria was conducted by two reviewers. The Critical Skills Appraisal Programme (CASP) was applied to assess quality and to act as an additional screening process. Sixty-five pieces of peer-reviewed literature were included in the final analysis for narrative review. 

Results: Review of the gathered evidence highlighted the following findings:

Definitions of anti-social behaviour: Definitions of ASB vary widely across the literature and other sources and there is no commonly agreed definitive definition. Legal and policy definitions in Ireland tend to align with legal and policy definitions in the UK, however even within Ireland, there are varying definitions used across different policy and legislative texts, both nationally and regionally. Similar ambiguity and variance exists cross the gathered peer-reviewed literature, with the term anti-social behaviour operationalised differentially depending on discipline, geographic region and context. This points to the subjectivity of the term: for some ASB is considered in terms of common sense understandings of acceptable and unacceptable; other definitions include oppositional type behaviours; while others conflate ASB with more serious criminal behaviours.

Perceptions of anti-social behaviour: Studies on perceptions of ASB in Ireland are sparse. The evidence that does exist suggests that the majority of people in Ireland do not view it as a very big issue, however some people feel greatly affected by it. Studies outside of Ireland show that ASB is typically a problem associated with young people, and young people are more likely to be perceived as perpetrators rather than victims. There is some evidence to suggest that people living in disadvantaged areas, those that are socially isolated or marginalised, and people with poorer health are more likely to perceive ASB as a problem.

The impacts and effects of anti-social behavior: The evidence base on the effects and impacts of ASB on communities, the wider public and on society is very poorly developed. The little evidence that exists suggests that anti-social behaviour may have the effect of excluding members of the community from spaces in their neighbourhoods and may impact on quality of life.

Underlying factors for anti-social behaviour: There is strong evidence to suggest that a confluence of factors at the individual, family, peer, community (neighbourhood and school) and wider societal level are implicated in the manifestation of anti-social behaviours. Promotive factors at the individual level include personality traits, genetic and epigenetic factors, although these are considered indicative of a predisposition rather than being determinative. Promotive factors at the family level include exposure to violence, family conflict and the absence of positive parenting practices. Neighbourhood level promotive factors include neighbourhood deprivation, neighbourhood disorder and high levels of neighbourhood crime. Low educational attainment, an unstable school environment and the perception of teachers being unfair were identified as salient factors at the school level. At the broader societal and structural levels, factors that were promotive of youth ASB included social deprivation and poverty, lack of employment opportunities, and in certain contexts/jurisdictions, contact with the justice system.

Approaches to addressing anti-social behaviour: Complex family and community based interventions were identified as being effective in addressing and preventing anti-social behaviour. The majority of the approaches highlighted as effective were based on social-ecological theoretical frameworks, such as functional family therapy (FFT), multisystemic therapy (MST) and other similar approaches. Several community-based, collaborative and participatory interventions were noted, however formal rigorous evaluations are lacking. Prevention programmes tended to adhere to developmental approaches, which, similar to the MST and other social-ecological approaches, targeted risk and protective factors located across various domains. There was a lack of evidence for the effectiveness of juvenile justice approaches, however comparison of juvenile justice systems is complicated by the practical, operational and ideological differences of such systems across jurisdictions.

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