Research Case Study: Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime (ESYTC)

The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime (ESYTC) has generated new understanding about youth offending and the impact of interventions. The study has led directly to reform in youth justice policy and practice in Scotland and has had international influence.

Led by Professors Lesley McAra and Susan McVie, the ESYTC is a prospective longitudinal study of pathways into and out of offending amongst a cohort of more than 4000 young people in the city of Edinburgh.

Data collection for the study has included six annual sweeps of self-report surveys from cohort members (aged 12-17) as well as official records from police, social work, children’s hearings, schools and criminal convictions records; surveys of parents and teachers; a community survey; and compilation of a Geographic Information System incorporating census and police-recorded crime data. A sub-sample of the original cohort (now aged 24/25) recently completed a follow-up self-report.

ESYTC highlighted four key findings:

  • (1) Involvement in serious offending by young people is strongly linked to their experiences of multiple aspects of vulnerability and social adversity.
    (2) Early identification of at-risk children is imprecise, and inappropriate use of formal controls risks recycling young people around the justice system, irreversibly stigmatising them, with negligible beneficial effect.
    (3) Pathways out of offending are facilitated or impeded by critical moments in the early teenage years, particularly experience of exclusion from school.
    (4) Appropriately targeted diversionary strategies can increase desistance from serious offending.

The ESYTC’s findings on the effectiveness of policing and youth-justice interventions provided evidence for the Scottish Government’s recent reforms to youth justice, including the Early and Effective Intervention Programme for under 16s and the Whole System Approach for under 18s. The Early and Effective Intervention Programme has been rolled out nationally. 

The Whole System Approach represents a major shift away from punitive measures towards maximum use of diversion, a key focus being keeping 16 and 17 year-olds out of the criminal justice system. The Whole System Approach was rolled out nationally to all 32 local authorities in Scotland in September 2011, along with guidance that draws heavily on ESYTC findings. All but two local authorities in Scotland have signed up to adopt the WSA.The effectiveness of these reforms is indicated the Policing Performance Framework data, which shows that the number of recorded crimes and offences committed by children and young people (8-17 year olds) decreased by 32% between 2008-09 and 2011-12.

The influential research carried out by Professor Lesley McAra and Professor Susan McVie was recognised when they were jointly awarded the Howard League Research Medal in 2013. Their paper ‘Delivering Justice for Children and Young People: Key Messages from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime’ was published by the Howard League in 2013.

Related links

ESYTC Homepage 

Watch Lesley McAra talk about 'Youth Crime' in her Research in a Nutshell video 

Watch Susan McVie talk about the 'Youth Offending Study' in her Research in a Nutshell video

Go to the Early and Effective Intervention Programme and the Scottish Government webpage

Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Part 18, section 188) 

Howard League Research Medal 2013 

College of Humanities and Social Science Research Impact Case Study

Related courses at Edinburgh Law School

MSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice

LLM in Criminal Law and Criminal Justice