Supporting Girls and Young Women at risk of harm – Reflections from Cape Town

Supporting Girls and Young Women at risk of harm – Reflections from Cape Town

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 speak to Jag Basra who leads the project to hear more about the project and its beginnings as an international learning programme.

How does BeLeave make a difference?

Launched in 2017, in partnership with the Birmingham Police and Schools Panels, BeLeave uses a whole family approach to prevent Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE).

The project aims to build a network of support and establishes positive activities for young people that can be an alternative to anti-social behaviour and exploitation.

BeLeave supports girls aged 8 to 18 years-old, across Birmingham, who are at risk of, or involved in CCE, either through a third party, family member or friend. It works to help these girls and young women make positive choices and avoid exploitation and gang-related harm.

With CCE operating in situations, contexts and relationships where young people are rewarded (with say, food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, affection, gifts, money) for completing a task, often of a criminal nature, Jag and his BeLeave team will support those targeted by gangs with:

  • Direct one-to-one support: Each girl will have one-to-one sessions that look to develop self-esteem, encourage assertiveness and aspiration and focus on the risks and consequences of CCE and gang-related harm, always looking to build trust and provide a space for the young person to be listened to
  • Peer group sessions: Trialling sessions in a group setting to engage girls and young women to share their experiences with other young people. This increases their knowledge and awareness around grooming and exploitation, managing healthy relationships, and safety online and in the community, while engaging in a social space that can offer emotional support
  • Family sessions: Creating a space of trust and positive discussion where families can become more aware of CCE and gang-related harm and learning to identify potential warning signs, like poor school attendance, violent and risk-taking behaviour, absences from home, drug/substance misuse, anti-social behaviour and criminal associations
  • Community Awareness: Providing girls with opportunities to take part in positive activities, such as sports, arts and leisure.

So Jag, what part of your job gives you most satisfaction?

In short, it would be the active participation in, and contribution towards bringing about a positive impact on the lives of vulnerable young people and their families that we support across Birmingham.

I have a very dedicated, passionate and inspiring team who enhance my capacity to deliver the service at such a high and consistent standard. Our explorative and curious nature in the work brings about rich narratives and lends itself to our ongoing learning and development as a service, tailoring our delivery to what the girls and young women need. Furthermore, the project began as part of a wider global initiative which was exciting and inspiring; giving me and Charlotte from the team an opportunity to visit Cape Town in 2019. Our work can support professionals’ learning as we recognise and reflect on our contribution to this significant movement.

And what can be hard?

At times it can be difficult to sustain engagement from some girls and young women; I understand this within the context of the service audience. Remember, we are attempting to engage those who may be on the periphery of gang affiliation or CCE.

A project with international roots – reflections from Cape Town:

In autumn 2019, Spurgeons’ BeLeave Project lead Jag and Family Support Worker Charlotte headed off to Cape Town for an international learning visit as part of the Comic Relief pioneered and funded programme. ‘I Define Me: Girls in Gangs’.

Representing the BeLeave early intervention project, in Birmingham Jag and Charlotte met up with nine similar initiatives from the UK, South Africa and Colombia to share experiences from the programme.

In the video below Jag and Charlotte share their reflections from Cape Town:

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