Early actions can prevent gang shootings
1 March 2023
In 2022, Sweden saw an average of more than one shooting per day and more than one deadly shooting per week. Research shows that only a small proportion of parents take advantage of the effective parenting support programmes that exist for children with disruptive behavioural problems.
Anna Sarkadi, Specialist Physician and Professor of Social Medicine and Public Health at Uppsala University, works on and conducts research into health-promoting and preventive mental health initiatives among the public, with a particular focus on parents and children. She discusses here her view of society today and the current shootings that have increased during the 2020s in Sweden.
“From a global perspective, Sweden has fewer health disparities in society than other countries,” explains Sarkadi, “but when making comparisons within Sweden, the disparities have grown over time. We had the ‘folkhemmet’ (welfare state) idea involving collective resources and the state being responsible for ensuring equal conditions for everyone. The inequality we are seeing today is rather a consequence of an opposite trend that has created acute tensions.
“It’s important to take action at an early stage and adapt our systems as needed. Above all, we need to build trust in relationships within child social services, antenatal services and social services. People should feel that public institutions have their best interest at heart and that they can get help when they need it, before the problems become too great.”
Child poverty creates greater risk of criminality
A study produced by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention shows that fatal shootings in criminal environments are increasing faster in Sweden than in the rest of Europe. The increasing proportion of fatal violence in criminal environments mainly affects young men aged 18–24. Many come from difficult situations at home.
“Child poverty is an increasing problem in Sweden and a major risk factor for going off the rails,” continues Sarkadi. “It’s not a matter of individual groups or skin colour, but if you live in cramped conditions, have an uncertain job, low level of education, financial instability or vulnerable position then it’s more difficult to give your children stimulation and be the parent you want to be.
“Early disruptive behavioural problems are also a clear risk factor for academic failure, the risk of ending up in conflicts or in criminality, substance abuse and various types of social exclusion. This can be seen even at ages 3–5, and we have many effective methods for tackling it. There are also parenting support programmes for older children and teenagers.”
Effective support for disruptive behavioural problems
To prevent gang shootings, it is important to create a society in which everyone feels involved. Children need to grow up with a feeling of security and a belief in the future. They need the necessary skills to build trust, succeed at school and constructively manage conflicts with their peers. These are long-term efforts.
“If children don’t feel the love and appreciation that all people seek and need, they can be drawn into gangs instead, even if gangs only offer false security,” explains Sarkadi. “In terms of child poverty, it feels so shameful and stigmatising that people will do almost anything to escape it.”
When gangs offer a way out of financial problems, a negative cycle can start with a major risk of young people being drawn in to help their mother out with money, for example, or in the belief that they can create a better future for themselves that way.
“Social services have a wonderfully open service with effective parenting support programmes, but today’s prevailing stigma means many feel uncomfortable contacting them. This is why we need to rethink things and have other open services instead, such as family centres or expanded home visit programmes that can offer help in a less dramatic way. We have several ongoing research studies, and Uppsala is actually a great example of evidence-based parenting support programmes being offered at pre-school level, something that has proven to be very successful.”
Loving but assertive discipline
The studies show that many children and young people who have gone off the rails have a notable absence of responsible adults and dedicated father figures.
“We need to talk more about how we can build up fathers in their role, helping them be more engaged and present for their children and adolescents,” adds Sarkadi. “Parents of teenagers also generally underestimate their own importance for their children. It’s definitely a good thing to be that annoying mum or dad who pokes their nose in, wants to know where their child is going, who they are with and when they are coming home.”
Research also shows that teenagers’ views on alcohol and drugs are influenced by their parents’ attitude.
“Children often protest when we set boundaries, but they need lovingly employed assertive discipline, and society should help parents become better at this. Daring to question bad behaviour is actually the responsibility of all adults,” concludes Sarkadi.
Facts about research into social medicine
Social medicine is an interdisciplinary branch of medicine examining health and disease in interaction with people’s surrounding environment. Preventive efforts and research are carried out in various social arenas, such as housing, education, factors for health and the population’s work situation.