There are at least 60 county line drugs operations in Birmingham. Because boys are more likely to be targeted by police, gangs are now increasingly targeting girls to transport weapons and drugs.
BeLeave was set up by Spurgeons and the Birmingham Police and Schools Panels in 2017 and funded by KFC and Comic Relief. It helps girls aged 8-18 who are in danger or such criminal exploitation to recognise risks and make positive choices.
Jag Basra who leads on BeLeave says, ”It’s a 12-session programme with four strands. Firstly, each girl has regular one-to-one meetings with the same caseworker – that continuity is important because as she learns to trust them, she will start to trust them, she will start to express her needs and our caseworker can tailor their support.
”We also have sessions with the girl’s family to brief them on what warning signs to look out for, such as truancy, anti-social behaviour or going missing from home.
”There are group activities – such as basketball – to help the girls discover positive new hobbies.
”Finally, there are group discussions on challenges facing young women today. Quite often, the girls suggest topics.”
BeLeave has helped over 100 girls and young women, including 14-year-old Nicky. She lived with her nan but they weren’t close. She says, ”My home life was miserable. I didn’t have anyone to talk to and I was afraid to talk to nan when I was feeling down.”
”I started getting bullied – for how I looked, how my hair was, and I got called names. They always push me off the bus, throw stuff at me like bricks or stones. I couldn’t stand up for myself. My grades started to slip. I started to hurt myself by cutting up my arms. I went missing, and my nan didn’t know where I was going, so she got worried.”
Listen to Nicky’s story in her own words:
”Before, I was like, no, I can’t do this, and my self-esteem was low. But now I have my confidence to do things. We learn new stuff every day.”
Then Nicky got involved with BeLeave. After five months, she really began to notice the difference. ”Before I was like, no, I can’t do this, and my self-esteem was low. But now I have my confidence to do things.
”We learn new stuff every day. Grooming, how to be safe online, rock climbing, graffiti – I’m proud of myself that I can do things! I started to interact with other people, and get into things like after-school drama club.
”I believe that I succeeded in my life now because in the future I could get a good job. And all the stuff that happened in my childhood wouldn’t affect me no more.”
Now, Nicky and her nan talk to one another. Nicky knows how to stay safe, when to leave a situation that won’t be good for her and is better at saying no to peer pressure. She’s more confident and communicative and is starting to feel good about herself.
Jas says, ”As the project has progressed, we’ve learned and improved. For example, girls used to be referred to BeLeave by police and social services, but now we also work with schools because they can spot warning signs at an earlier stage. We also learned that school referrals need the support of parents or girls won’t turn up. So now we visit families to explain what BeLeave is and how it will help.
”After they complete the programme, the girls can volunteer or participate in group sessions. They can make a valuable contribution while continuing to benefit from being part of a supportive peer group.”
Seeing the impact
70% of service users at BeLeave saw their self-esteem increase between the start and end of the intervention.*
84 girls and young women were referred due to an identified risk of involvement in a gang or gang-related activity.
*(as measured on Rosenberg scale, of all participating respondents)
Most young girls’ and young women’s level of risk has decreased when compared to the initial referrals, and with their awareness around child criminal exploitation and gang-related harm having increased instead.
Rosenberg’s self-esteem scale and participants’ feedback suggest that the participants, overall, are significantly more confident and have a higher sense of self at completion compared to baseline.
-Northants University Evaluation report 2019
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). BeLeave has been shortlisted for the 2020 Children and Young People Now Awards in the Early Intervention category for its work providing assistance to girls and young women at risk of exploitation.
To learn more about the BeLeave project or to make a referral, click here.