Front line Youth workers can identify gang mental health issues at an early stage

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By John Davis:

Frontline youth workers play an important role in identifying mental health issues with young people who are involved in gangs at an early stage. The home affairs select committee was informed Youth workers would benefit from receiving mental health training to support young people in gangs.

The home affairs select committee was informed that a huge significant number of young people who are involved in gangs and youth on youth violence have undiagnosed mental health issues.

Youth workers have an important part to play in identifying young people who may have mental health issues at an early stage.  There are times we as youth workers have come across in our line of work with young people showing signs of mental health issues violent behavior showing signs. There are a number of young people who are not being diagnosed

Dr Howard informed the committee…”What we do know is that we are dealing with young people who come from, in many cases, highly complex and challenging backgrounds, and it would be a wonder if they did not have thoughts in their head that were disturbing them. Young people who witnessed their friends get murdered, shot, or grow up in environments of domestic violence, in many cases have absent parents.”

Youth workers have a brilliant relationship with young people. Young people trust them, yet those workers don’t have the resources to begin to address mental health needs.

Dr Howard goes onto saying “We need to add value and capacity-build the frontline workforce so that they feel confident and equipped to identify and have basic-level mental health conversations.”

Dr Howard also further added…the services young people are referred to must ensure that they are able to go out into the community to see young people where they feel comfortable in their “turf” this could be such as meeting young people on park benches, buses, or even stairwells.

“Services need to be flexible around chaotic lives,” she said.

“They shouldn’t say ‘we need you to turn up at 2pm and if you don’t come three times in a row you will be discharged’.

“Instead they should say ‘I will be sitting at McDonald’s on Tuesday afternoon between 2pm and 6pm – it’s up to you if you come’. This approach will youth workers to be more flexible rather being rigid in their approach. However there are times youth worker will need to put their foot down the young person is constantly missing their appointments.

“We need to radically rethink what we do.”

Home affairs select committee also heard from Lorraine Khan, who is an associate director of the children and young people programme at the Centre for Mental Health, she said that mental health problems is not only a factor for boys but it is also a huge factor in girls getting who are involved with gangs.

She further goes onto saying that more needs to be done to identify the issues at an early stage in order to address them promptly. “We ought to be taking a child and youth development approach to prevent young people drifting into gang involvement,” she said.

“We are still learning about the risk factors but we know that when they start to multiply, it increases the chance of the young person getting involved in gangs and getting stuck in gangs.

”She said young women in gangs need easy access to safe relationships that help them to build their self-esteem as well as a “safe exit route”.

“It’s not easy for girls to leave gangs,” she added. The select committee’s inquiry on gangs and youth crime is evaluating the first year of the government’s Ending Gang and Youth Violence programme and considering what more needs to be done to make young people feel safer.

“In a lot of ways they are similar to what has been described already. What young women need is easy access to relationships that are safe, that model positive behaviors, that build up their self-esteem—because low self-esteem has been associated with increased chance of gang involvement—and offers them a safe exit route, because for young women, leaving gangs is a high-risk activity in itself.”

She further goes onto saying that…”It can be for young men as well, but it is for young women. We need to think about that and safe housing. I think relationships are at the core of young women’s exit routes, and making sure that they have the proper input to deal with the trauma that they have experienced and to move forward from that”.

As we can see from the above hearing it is essential that youth services re think the way they work with young people both boys and girls involved in gang activities. All youth workers centre based or detached youth workers should receive basic Mental Heath training.

This will equip front line youth workers to identify signs of mental health amongst young people they are engaging with.

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