Westminster nurse wins mental health award for work with gangs

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A UK-BASED Zimbabwean nurse has won the Nursing Standard Award for her work with young people and families affected by gangs.awards-1

Westminster Clinical Nurse Specialist, Dorcas Gwata, was named the winner at an awards ceremony held at a London hotel earlier this month.

Claire Murdoch CNWL Chief Executive, told her: “We are proud of your work, innovation and passion…..never lose it.

“Nurses like you make me proud to be a nurse too.”

Her clinical supervisor, CNWL consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist Tami Kramer, said Dorcas’ outstanding mental health nursing knowledge, skills and experience, coupled with her empathy and commitment, had secured her success in a difficult field.

“Dorcas is able to engage young people not primarily looking for help and are often initially dismissive of their need for professional intervention,” said Dr Kramer.

“Her warm, enthusiastic and persuasive style enables these difficult, often inarticulate, youngsters to share and reflect on their general health and mental health needs, and the links with their behaviour.

“She never gives up on giving young people the chance to find positive solutions to their life dilemmas.”

Dorcas works in the Westminster Integrated Gangs Unit (IGU) and with CNWL Westminster Child and Adolescent Mental Health Team to help improve the health of socially stigmatised, deprived young people engaged in high risk behaviours associated with gang involvement.

The team work in partnership with social services, the police and community protection. About 80% of the service users are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Dorcas said: “A high proportion of young people and families affected by gang culture have unmet mental health needs such as learning difficulties, Autism, and Dyslexia.

“They often have associated levels of substance misuse, anxiety, unmet physical health needs and trauma from stabbings and or kidnappings thrown into the mix too.

“These young people are unlikely to access health services in traditional methods so my role is crucial and the strength of this work lies in our multi-agency partnerships.”

Dorcas was brought into the team following a Public Health studies and Home Office Report in 2011 which provided an evidence base for unmet mental health needs in young people and families involved in gangs in London.

More than 80% of cases are from minority backgrounds.

“If we don’t pay attention to culture and the impact that this has on the families we would be missing a huge chunk of potential positive interventions,” said Dorcas.

Regarding her approach, she explained: “There are many challenges and it takes a lot of perseverance.

“But 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 behaviour  and lifestyle?

“When a young person is not engaging with the team we have to look at diverse alternatives. We might intervene when they are at school, or if they are in custody I go there and see if we can have a chat.

“Timing can be important. Some spiral further into crime, so there can be a dip before a breakthrough. There is a high level of violence around the transition from adolescence to adulthood, aged about 15 to 17, which carries on until they are 18 or 19.”


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