Birmingham project will stop girls getting into gangs

A major new initiative to reduce the numbers of girls getting into gangs in Birmingham will be piloted by Spurgeons Children’s Charity.

The family support service, called BeLeave, will be run in partnership with the Birmingham Police and Schools Panels (PSPs) over three years, and is the first and only initiative in Birmingham aimed specifically at girls.

Spurgeons are announcing their fourth project in Birmingham ahead of the United Nation’s International Day of the Girl Child (Oct 11), which highlights the disadvantage and discrimination experienced by girls everywhere on a daily basis.

The national children’s charity runs a number of projects in the West Midlands. In addition to Children’s Centres and Young Carer services in Birmingham, it also delivers the Phoenix project – which supports victims, and those at risk, of child sexual exploitation (CSE) and their families.

Girls are particularly vulnerable to gang involvement, which can expose them to high levels of CSE and potential criminal activity.  BeLeave will, uniquely, involve the whole family in order to build a network of support for at-risk girls.

Ross Hendry, CEO of Spurgeons, said: “Girls who have become emotionally disconnected from their family are at increased risk of being involved in anti-social behaviour. Without replacement interests and goals, girls can succumb to prior peer pressure and revert back to their previous life-style.

“The key to the success of this project is building trust with the girls and their families. An impartial body, like ours, is the best way to build that trust quickly and further reduce the demand on statutory bodies in the present culture of shrinking resources.”

Described as an early intervention project, girls aged 11-18 will be referred to Spurgeons by schools if they are demonstrating “warning signs” including sudden behaviour changes, low school attendance or being brought to the attention of the police.

BeLeave will offer one-to-one sessions with both the girl and her parent/carer.  Support sessions will develop the girl’s self-esteem, encourage assertiveness and aspiration, and provide a space to be acknowledged and listened to, whilst also raising her awareness of risk and dangers related to gang involvement.

The family support will create space for open discussion aimed at  raising families’ awareness and knowledge of gang involvement, ability to identify gang-related risks and signs, and knowledge of where and how to access appropriate support services.

Kelly Walker, project lead for Spurgeons, said: “By providing a holistic programme of support that changes both a girl’s behaviour and environment we reduce the likelihood of a girl’s future gang activity. Our whole family approach means parents gain new parenting skills and confidence to set and enforce boundaries. Stronger family units will reduce the risky behaviours that lead to a girl’s gang activity.”

As well as identifying emotional and behavioural issues, BeLeave will look for signs of child sexual exploitation, mental health issues or trauma related disorders. Girls can then be referred to specialist support.

All girls will be reassured, both at the point of referral and at initial assessment, that their involvement in BeLeave will be confidential with sessions taking place at a time and location that is convenient and appropriate for them.

The project, which is funded by Comic Relief, will support 45 girls and their families per year for three years.

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Heather Findlay



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