What do we know about girls and gangs?

Work with offenders looks at the latest evidence review from the probation inspectorate

HM Inspectorate of Probation has published the latest report in its “Academic Insights” series which is aimed at everyone within the probation sector with an interest in the evidence base. The Inspectorate commissions leading academics to present their views on specific topics in order to inform debate and help everyone’s understanding of what helps and what hinders probation and youth offending services.

The latest report is a particularly interesting one: “Getting out for good: preventing gangs through participation” by Doctor Deborah Jump and Doctor Rachel Horan summarised the research evidence on girls in gangs and had this has been used to develop the “Getting Out For Good” (GOFG) project which combines gender specific mentoring with sporting and cultural activities.

Get out for good 

GOFG, which is funded by Comic Relief, developed an approach that combined gender-specific mentoring with sporting and cultural activities for the girls and young women referred to the project. There is a clear evidence base that sport can affectively engage young people on the verge and/or at risk of offending, by providing diversity activities when they otherwise may be involved in anti-social behaviour. The main components of the project where boxing and football coupled with film making and mentoring. The goals of the project were to build resilience, enhance personal aspirations, facilitate teamwork and foster positive peer networks while at the same time upskilling the girls and young women for the job market with nationally recognised qualifications.

A different view of gangs 

Both workers and researchers quickly realised that the young women involved in the programme were not gang members or affiliated to any version of a gang typology. They experienced gangs very differently and their exploitation and its consequences quickly became evident.

Researchers set out to map these young women’s journeys in their own words, using case studies and conversations with the girls and their mentors, the project was able to respond to each individual and assess the extent of the programme’s impact. These individual narratives are at the heart of the project and we reproduce an example below.

The emphasis on working alongside the girls and young women – rather than delivering interventions to them – led to an evolving approach and a revised Theory of Change. GOFG devised a bespoke approach at both the community and individual levels that took the needs of girls and young women seriously and, importantly, looked at them as very separate to those of young men.

The project learnt that mental and emotional support was critical to help these girls and young women develop their self-confidence and support networks. The overall conclusion was that each person needed to receive an individualised service built on their own situation and that they needed to be an active and, indeed, the lead partner in developing their own pathway out of a risky situation.