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Agenda Alliance calls for specialist support for girls and young women most at risk of poverty, abuse, poor mental health and contact with the criminal justice system.

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Pushed out, Left out

This is a guest post from the charity Agenda Alliance (@agenda_alliance).

‘Pushed Out, Left Out’ is the new report by Agenda Alliance calling for specialist support for girls and young women most at risk of poverty, abuse, poor mental health and contact with the criminal justice system.

 The charity Agenda Alliance has just (10 November 2022) released a ground-breaking report exposing the real-life impact of the lack of specialist support for girls and young women facing multiple unmet needs and interconnecting inequalities.

The study, ‘Girls Speak: Pushed Out, Left Out’, focuses on the experience and first-hand accounts of 36 young women and discovered that many felt ‘pushed out and left out’ from appropriate help across services such as schools, doctors, policing and mental health provision.

Key takeaways 

  • Racial disparities and discrimination persist for girls’ school exclusions
  • Black, Asian, and minoritised girls and young women face high likelihood of experiencing further trauma through contact with the criminal justice system
  • Young mothers, already at risk of poverty, are at the sharpest end of cost-of-living crisis
  • Services unable to address an epidemic of mental health problems among girls and young women in their late teens and early twenties
  • Girls in schools and pupil referral units don’t feel safe from sexual harassment

Young women and girls’ experiences are at the heart of the research, which involved in-depth interviews. Speaking to Agenda Alliance, young women explained how services often feel inaccessible for them, and how when they were able to access services, inappropriate and/or discriminatory responses marginalised them further from receiving the support they needed.

In other words, when seeking help, they experienced harm.

Nicole, 23, explained how her sexual assault disclosure was mishandled by the police:

“I disclosed abuse to the police, and I had to go through a whole court case, so I was involved with services such as Victim Support, and also the police, and the justice system.

 “Although I had evidence of the abuse, I felt like I wasn’t spoken to appropriately by the police officers on the two different times that I disclosed. One of the main reasons was because I was given a male person to interview me, [even though] I was a victim of sexual assault.”

 “It made me feel excluded and made me feel like I couldn’t express what was going on.”

 

Hanna, 16, spoke to us about an instance when she went to hospital to be assessed for her mental health:

I waited several hours and when they finally saw me, it felt very rushed. They didn’t ask the things I felt they should be asking. They kept going around things and not being direct.

 “After that experience, nothing was resolved. We’re still in a pretty awful situation. I thought things were going to change with this service. Nothing was done and I was left feeling hopeless.”

 

Previous Agenda Alliance research has highlighted that 74% of girls in youth custody have previously been permanently excluded from school. This is particularly concerning given the racialised patterns Agenda Alliance found in school exclusion and suspension rates.

16-year-old girl J was excluded and participates in Milk Honey Bees, an organisation which supports excluded Black and mixed white and Black African and Caribbean girls. She said:

 “Being kicked out of school at 13 made my life a hundred times worse. Now three years later I still suffer from mental issues from the way I was dismissed. I felt misunderstood and alone.

 “What school doesn’t understand is that mixed Black and Black girls rarely speak up for themselves when they need help because we are expected to be strong and handle our emotions.

 “Not understanding mixed Black and Black girls is a choice that impacts us for the rest of our lives.”

© Katerina Holmes

The ‘Girls Speak’ report clearly demonstrates the real-life impact of overstretched services, the aftermath of Covid and lack of targeted support for girls and young women. Girls and young women at risk of poverty, abuse, poor mental health and contact with the criminal justice system are being pushed out and left out, forced into further risk and harm.

As a result, Agenda Alliance is calling for:

  • The Minister for Women and Equalities to be made a standalone Cabinet level post with a new responsibility for girls and young women with multiple unmet needs
  • Public services to develop anti-racist and trauma-informed practice that tackles the linked inequalities that many girls and young women face
  • Suitable funding allocated to gender-specific youth services to improve overstretched and overburdened services
  • All local authorities to uniformly collate data and information on girls and young women with multiple unmet needs within their areas to improve support for the most at-risk girls and young women
  • The government to prioritise prevention and early intervention for girls and young women at-risk of to end the cycle of trauma and harm.

For the full report, see here.

 

Thanks to Katerina Holmes for kind permission to use the header image in this post.

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