Girls in Gangs

The Centre for Mental Health have produced a report, A Need to Belong, which sets out some of the health and social risks for girls who are involved in gangs.

Risky behaviours in gangsAs you would expect one of the risks associated with gang membership is substance misuse; on which they say that girls in gangs are between two and three times more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs than the girls who are not in gangs that enter the criminal justice system.

They do point out that drug misuse is even higher amongst male gang members, but don’t comment on the finding that alcohol misuse is by some way the highest amongst girl gang members.

This fits with the correlation between gang membership and drug and alcohol misuse in young people picked out in research for the Home Office back in 2006 and which I wrote about for the Drug Education Forum (here).

The Centre for Mental Health report makes a strong case for early intervention with girls who exhibit the range of risk factors that make them more likely to be involved in gangs, and suggests a set of what look to be to be well thought out policy recommendations.

It will be interesting to see if we see similar things as we analyse the data from our work with Alcohol Concern on alcohol, offending and deprivation which we’ll be publishing later this year.

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What works for girls

Following on from yesterday’s post about what works for boys, the same organisation (Child Trends) have produced a similar paper about what has been shown to work for girls.

When it comes to substance misuse they found 20 programmes that were able to tell them something about what works and what has been less successful when it comes to girls.  They say:

Five programs were found to work for girls, seven had mixed impacts, and eight were not found to work for girls.

They suggest there were two elements that were shown to work:

  • Including a parent/family component in the programme
  • Engaging local stakeholders often forming a committee to oversee the programme

Other programmes have had more mixed findings – working sometimes, but not consistently:

  • Encouraging media literacy
  • Targeting actual or perceived norms

Only one thing is described as having no effect with girls:

  • Teaching social skills

The last is interesting as much of the perceived impact of life skills curricula – such as Life Skills Training or Unplugged – focuses on improving those social skills that will help young people manage decisions where drugs and alcohol are being consumed and discussed.

What works for boys.

You may remember that one of the weaknesses that the EMCDDA found when looking at prevention approaches here and across Europe was that we don’t do enough to work on approaches that recognise that different genders respond differently to drug prevention.  So when one of my go to sources for evidence based thinking about young people, Child Trends, produced a short briefing on approaches that have been shown to work for boys I was happy to see they’ve taken a look at substance misuse amongst a range of problematic behaviours that can affect young people.

Their reading of the evidence base suggests that the following have been shown to work more times than it has failed.

  • Manualised interventions for male children and adolescents.
  • Heavy focus on health consequences of substance use.
  • Self-esteem building activities.
  • Brief interventions for college-age adolescents.

The focus on health consequences surprises me given that this can so often come across as scare tactics, but they found that nine of the 13 programmes that had placed considerable emphasis on making sure that participants understand the negative impact of substances had a positive effect on boys outcomes.

Interesting one of the programmes they cite is the winner of an Mentor International award.

The paper goes on to look at what has a more mixed track record.  Here they say:

Programs that target multiple risky behaviors, such as reproductive health, delinquency and academics, resulted in mixed impacts on substance use outcomes. Of the fourteen programs, only seven worked.

Finally they turn to the approach that has not been successful and here they say:

Interventions that target multiple outcomes, such as job training, health care, and residential living tend to not have positive impacts on substance use outcomes for male children or adolescents. Out of all fifteen programs that worked, none were multi-tier interventions. More importantly, of the six multi-tier programs, none worked to improve substance use outcomes.