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Introduction

How one family responded when led to believe that life could be so much better

sad girl looking at phone

How one family responded when led to believe that life could be so much better

This year the Spurgeons’ BeLeave project was shortlisted for the 2020 Children and Young People Now Awards in the Early Intervention category for its work supporting girls and young women across Birmingham who are at risk of harm from gangs or Child Criminal Exploitation. Ahead of the virtual awards ceremony in 2021 we look at just one example of how the BeLeave Project has supported one family to believe that life could be so much better.

Mum Denise*, who has lived with domestic violence, has become reliant on substances. She recently served a short custodial sentence for shoplifting. During her sentence, Denise’s two daughters, Layla (15) and Shona (9) lived with a family friend. This caused a lot of resentment towards Denise, from both sisters; Layla’s attitude towards her Mum was particularly hostile.

Layla had been permanently excluded from school for carrying a knife after several temporary exclusions for fighting. She was now attending a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) for two hours a day, three days a week, although she often didn’t get there because she saw it as a ”waste of time”. Life has been chaotic for this family.

With time on her hands, Layla had become heavily invested in friends known to the police for anti-social behaviour, criminality and child sexual exploitation. She openly smoked cannabis, as well as cigarettes and there were concerns over gang affiliation. Yet it was when Layla, herself, was caught shoplifting that she was referred to Spurgeons’ BeLeave team by the police.

‘Layla didn’t believe she would achieve anything with her life’

Shortly after Spurgeons began working with Layla, she assaulted another pupil at her PRU – pulling her hair and kicking her to the ground. After teachers intervened, Layla smashed a window. It was at this point that Layla confided in her Family Support Worker that she didn’t believe she would achieve anything with her life. The fact she felt she had nothing to loose explained a lot of Layla’s behaviour.

Our BeLeave team helped Layla identify a number of achievable goals that gave her the impetus to take control of her life and aspirations. In family sessions, Layla and Denise worked on their communication with each other. This resulted in fewer family arguments and a more supportive relationship. Denise said they learned how to talk to each other without shouting.

‘an opportunity to prove herself wrong’

Layla was offered a full-time placement at another PRU. Our BeLeave team supported her to see this as an opportunity to prove herself wrong, to prove that, actually, she could make something of her life. This has had a positive impact on Layla’s confidence and self-esteem and she’s starting to make friends as her destructive friendships have faded.

Spurgeons has also supported Layla to begin volunteering at a local stable, helping to much out the horses and tend to their needs. Layla feels relaxed and calm when she’s at the yard; she’s a different girl. Indeed Layla told Spurgeons, ”You’ve made me feel better about myself and I’ve learned from you how to choose the good people to hang around with.”

At the end of our work with Layla, life is much calmer and more stable for the family. Denise, inspired by the tenacity Layla has shown, has sought support for her addictions and intends to enrol on a course to help her back into work. She’s also arranged a holiday to visit extended family as a reward for Layla’s hard work.

‘They are working together to support each other.’

Let’s leave the last word to one of our BeLeave support workers ”I feel Layla and her family now have the tools to reduce their risk of any further criminal affiliation. The family unit has become stronger and more unified, which has increased the supportive network and protective barrier for Layla.

The family are communicating more coherently with fewer arguments and, with our help, Denise has introduced more boundaries and rules for the home to support a calmer and friendly environment.

BeLeave has supported over 100 girls and young women, aged 8 to 18-years in Birmingham, who are vulnerable to gang affiliation and Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE). 

To learn more about the BeLeave project or to make a referral, click here.

*The family names used here are fictitious but the family and story are real; the photograph is a stock image and does not feature anyone in the article.