Within the team and across our services we have been reflecting on how participatory approaches can help inform contextual safeguarding. At Abianda we believe that context is everything when working with gang-affected young women: understanding how young women’s lives play out in different contexts is essential to understanding the risk and harm they may face, and how to support them navigate those. Furthermore, Abianda works with young women affected by gangs in a range of ways and with a broad spectrum of gang association. Young women across this spectrum of gang association – particularly the most high-risk and high-vulnerability young women – are regularly in locations that service providers cannot reach into. To get empirical knowledge of those spaces, participatory approaches are key to get an accurate understanding of young women’s lives and therefore deliver better services.
Abianda has found that by tipping the balance of power to young women, and using a participatory approach, young women are much more likely to engage and share their expertise on the lives of young women. One example of this in action is Abianda’s work with young women engaged in county line activity, mapping out the routes taken and the different adversity (and sometimes excitement) they might face in different contexts, for example on public transport, or in a trap house in Essex.
We continue to learn lessons about embedding participation as a model of practice within an organisation. I am a youth worker, so I suppose it’s in my blood! Since founding the organisation I have been able to ensure that that these would be the principles worked to: Abianda elicits the views of young women in every engagement, from intimate one-to-one discussions to having a Young Women’s Business Advisory Group that advises at a governance level. It can be challenging to work to those principles, but we continually ask how are we being in service to young women, and are we being loyal to our principles?
Longer-standing organisations may encounter challenges when seeking to embed participation as a model of practice, particularly when working with young people affected by sexual violence. I would recommend prioritising these actions: