Supporting the mental health needs of inner-city gang members

ImageDorcas Gwata is a Clinical Nurse Specialist who works in the Westminster Integrated Gangs Unit (IGU) and with Central and North West London (CNWL) NHS Foundation Trust’s Westminster Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service team to help improve the health of socially stigmatised, deprived young people associated with gangs.

The team works with social services, the police and community protection. Young girls carry particular risk factors - 20 per cent in Westminster are involved in gangs. They are at very high risk of sexual exploitation and, subsequently, self-harming. Substance misuse may also be a factor. Both male and female young people are at risk of kidnapping through gang activity.

Referrals are received from five key workers and links have been built with youth offending teams and probation services. Dorcas  meets young people on the streets, in cafes, at home and in youth clubs. Patience is key. ‘I don’t have a Did not Attend list and I regularly get stood up at McDonalds, but I look at context and what it means. What is going on with that young person, their behavior and lifestyle?’

To help deal with the specific vulnerability of her young female clients, Dorcas has developed links with a sexual health clinic at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. ‘There are significantly high levels of chlamydia among girls involved in gangs,’ she says. ‘And we look at the mental health impact of sexual exploitation, which can escalate very quickly into self harm.’ There are safety planning measures for girls at risk of sexual exploitation and kidnapping, and a mental health plan to help reduce self-blame and self-harm.

You can read more about this innovative multi-agency collaboration here
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