clear   Chapter 2:   Policy And Program Development For Serving Female Juvenile Delinquents
What Does Gender-Specific Programming Look Like In Practice?

COMPREHENSIVE, NOT PIECEMEAL. Just as the problems and risks facing girls tend to be interrelated and complex, effective solutions cannot be fragmented or offered on a piecemeal basis.

A comprehensive approach deals with behavior in context, enabling each girl to focus on her individual needs, to understand how risk factors have shaped her development, and to address issues that arise in her relationships with others (Lindgren, 1996; Valentine Foundation, 1990), including family, peers, community, and society.

Comprehensive program models have a dual purpose of reducing numbers of female delinquents and serving those girls already involved in the juvenile justice system. By preventing problems before they occur, intervening early to change risky behaviors, and providing follow-up care after treatment to reinforce new skills and prevent recidivism, comprehensive programs provide girls with a continuum of services. Within this continuum:

  • Primary prevention aims to eliminate or minimize behaviors or environmental factors that increase girls' risk of delinquency (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 1993). Primary prevention focuses on helping girls to develop the knowledge, skills, and experiences that will promote health and resiliency. All girls can benefit from primary prevention

  • Early intervention (also known as secondary prevention) provides early detection and treatment to reduce problems caused by risky behaviors and prevent further development of problems (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 1993; Mulvey & Brodsky, 1990). Examples of interventions for girls in the juvenile justice system include educational and vocational training, family-based interventions, and diversion to community-based programs (Mulvey & Brodsy, 1990)

  • Treatment and aftercare (also known as tertiary prevention) arrest the progression of problems caused by risky behaviors. Residential and secure incarceration may be utilized to help girls develop perspective, interrupt high-risk behavior patterns, and learn skills to address the normal developmental tasks which their life experiences have not allowed them to master. Aftercare is included in the treatment model to prevent recidivism. (Altschuler & Armstrong, 1994)

GENDER-SPECIFIC. Gender-specific programming goes beyond simply focusing on girls. It represents a concentrated effort to assist all girls (not only those involved in the justice system) in positive female development. It takes into account the developmental needs of girls at adolescence, a critical stage for gender identity formation. It nurtures and reinforces "femaleness" as a positive identity with inherent strengths.

Gender-specific programming provides girls with decisionmaking and life skills that will assist their development into womanhood. Given the importance that girls place on relationships, gender-specific programming teaches positive relationship-building skills. Empowerment teaches girls to use their voice, to speak for themselves, and to recognize that they have choices.

Gender-specific programming also recognizes the dangers and risks that girls face because of gender. This means acknowledging that the lives of girl offenders may have been affected by:

  • Sexism, which means less power and fewer options for females in society

  • Victimization, including sexual abuse, child pornography, prostitution, and other forms of exploitation

  • Poverty, which affects teen mothers in disproportionate numbers and also increases girls' vulnerability to dropping out of school, joblessness, health problems, and delinquency

  • Racism, which may affect placement of female juvenile offenders (Federle and Chesney-Lind, 1992)

The Valentine Foundation (1990) has articulated the essential elements of effective gender-specific programming for adolescent girls. These benchmarks include:

  • Space that is physically and emotionally safe, and removed from the demands for attention of adolescent males

  • Time for girls to talk, for girls to conduct emotionally "safe," comforting, challenging, nurturing conversations within ongoing relationships

  • Opportunities for girls to develop relationships of trust and interdependence with other women already present in their lives (such as friends, relatives, neighbors, church members)

  • Programs that tap girls' cultural strengths rather than focusing primarily on the individual girl (i.e., building on Afrocentric perspectives of history and community relationships)

  • Mentors who share experiences that resonate with the realities of girls' lives and who exemplify survival and growth

  • Education about women's health, including female development, pregnancy, contraception, diseases and prevention, along with opportunities for girls to define healthy sexuality on their own terms (rather than as victims)

  • Opportunities to create positive changes to benefit girls on an individual level, within their relationships, and within the community

  • Giving girls a voice in program design, implementation, and evaluation

  • Adequate financing to ensure that comprehensive programming will be sustained long enough for girls to integrate the benefits

  • Involvement with schools so that curriculum reflects and values the experience and contributions of women

"Before I came here, I thought it was the woman's fault she got abused. Now I know that it's never her fault."

-Participan, Harriet
Tubman Residential Center
In addition to these key features of gender-specific programs, additional elements have been identified by other researchers. A report by Girls Incorporated (1996) stresses the importance of valuing, celebrating, and honoring "the female perspective" in program planning and design. The Ms. Foundation (1993) makes a case for programs to target girls before they reach adolescence, and also encourages gender-specific programs to "address racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and other identified isms." Community Research Associates (1997) promotes the least restrictive programming environment for girls, and also encourages placement of delinquent girls in programs located as close to home as possible. Leslie Acoca, director of the Women and Girls Institute at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, lists these hallmarks of a female-friendly facility: a humane living environment; small scale, which allows for innovation; respectful interactions between staff and residents; and a positive atmosphere to encourage positive change. (Acoca, 1998b).

In order to effectively implement systemic change through the infusion of gender-specific programming for girls, there is a need for courageous advocacy for gender-specific programming. Albrecht (1994) has adapted a leadership model by Kouzes and Posner (1987) in outlining steps to gender-specific programming advocacy. This model promotes the following critical steps:

  1. Challenging the process. The juvenile justice system needs to be challenged regarding its gender bias. Girls have been overlooked for too long.

  2. Inspiring a shared vision. The juvenile justice system can help promote the empowerment of girls by advancing a vision of appropriate and gender-specific services for females. In order for a system to reach consensus on such a shared vision, individuals must engage in a process of reexamining their values about girls and women if they are to advance gender-specific programming for girls.

  3. Enabling others to act. Through collaboration and coalition building, diverse groups can develop a common working ground in which cultural, gender, and ethnic differences can be valued in the promotion of gender-specific programming.

  4. Modeling the way. Effective leadership in the advocacy process needs to model change rather than doing "business as usual." Systemic change occurs when countless small changes coalesce. Those small changes can be effectively modeled by leaders who exhibit courage by changing their old behaviors and doing things differently. Making girls a priority before their numbers increase to the level of male juvenile delinquents represents a proactive rather than reactive way of addressing the problem.

  5. Encouraging the heart. By recognizing the need for taking small steps, making changes in values, and connecting with others within the system at the individual value level, employees are encouraged to feel and act compassionately about the needs of girls in the juvenile justice system.

Because a majority of girl offenders have experienced sexual, emotional and/or physical abuse during childhood, gender-specific programming within the juvenile justice system makes treating the issues related to abuse a priority in all aspects of care. In designing programs, this means:

  • Girls need to develop an understanding of their victimization and how they may continue to view themselves as victims

  • Girls need to begin to understand that they can accept the power to not participate in abusive situations in the future

  • Girls need opportunities to address their feelings of anger and frustration that might have contributed to their involvement in criminal activity

  • Girls need opportunities to systematically explore their reluctance to trust others

  • Girls need opportunities to learn how to develop and maintain appropriate, healthy boundaries in relationships

ADDRESSING RISK AND RESILIENCY FACTORS. A comprehensive program addresses the risks and dangers girls face, and also encourages those protective factors that can help girls in the juvenile justice system.

Specific risks addressed in comprehensive program models include those explained in more detail in Chapter 1, namely:

  • Poverty
  • Ethnic membership
  • Poor academic performance
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Substance abuse
  • Victimization
  • Health and mental health concerns
  • Gang membership

Resilient girls, who avoid delinquency despite exposure to risks, tend to have a close relationship with at least one caring, trusted adult. Their teachers and parents tend to express high expectations for them, helping them look positively toward the future. They are given opportunities to meet positive role models and mentors through their neighborhood and community life.

The following protective factors, which can be targeted in comprehensive programs, help girls change their negative behavior:

  • Gender identification: Persistent messages about sex roles hit many girls hard at adolescence, resulting in a well-documented drop in self-confidence and hope during the early teens. Research by Carol Gilligan and others has shown that many girls feel as if they lose their "voice" at adolescence, and revert to silence and passivity in place of assertiveness and strength (Taylor, Gilligan & Sullivan, 1995). Gender-identity development counters this trend and helps girls see their maturity to womanhood as a hopeful future.

  • Interpersonal relations: Relationships are of particular importance to girls, who are socialized from a young age to listen to others and to value emotional exchanges (Archer, 1985; Lobeber & Hay, 1997; Streitmatter, 1988). Positive relationships, including girls' informal communities of friends and their relationships with adults, can be a strong protective factor. Relationship skill building will help girls recognize potentially damaging relationships and develop healthy ways of interacting with others. Interactions between girl offenders and juvenile justice staff provide a context for girls to participate in healthy relationships. These interactions need to be fostered in a positive, ongoing, therapeutic manner. In residential settings, girls need to develop healthy ways of interacting with all staff responsible for their care. Some relationships will be close, interpersonal, and lasting, while others will be respectful but limited to the roles of student and staff.

  • Self-esteem: Girls' self-esteem is particularly vulnerable at adolescence. Low self-esteem can be a precipitating factor in delinquency, depression, suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and school failure (Albrecht, 1994). Enhanced self-esteem can mitigate against these behavioral risks (American Association of University Women, 1991).

  • Individualism: During adolescence, girls struggle to balance feelings of self-importance with connection to others. They face the developmental task of defining themselves on their own terms, and not relying on adults for approval or determination of self-worth (Ms. Foundation, 1993; Mitten, 1995). Having a strong sense of themselves as individuals helps them set appropriate boundaries, make good decisions, and form healthy relationships. Developing this sense of self becomes more difficult if they have experienced abuse, family dysfunction, or other situations in which trust was violated (Knudson-Martin, 1994).

  • Future orientation: An orientation toward the future serves as a protective factor by allowing girls to see beyond immediate life circumstances, such as poverty. Girls who value and aspire to educational achievement tend to have a compelling sense of the future (Benard, 1991).

  • Physical development: During puberty, a greater number of physical, emotional, psychological, and social changes occur simultaneously than at any other developmental stage. Girls who enter puberty close to the time of their immediate peer group are most likely to master this transition successfully (Brooks-Gunn & Reiter, 1990). Delaying sexual activity offers girls a protective factor against unwanted pregnancy and other risks that could lead to delinquency.

  • Family-school-community support: Youths who have a strong bond with a family member or a trusted adult outside the family are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors. Families foster positive development in girls by providing a nurturing home environment; setting clear limits; teaching cultural identity; communicating expectations; and monitoring the whereabouts of their children. Schools provide more protective factors by setting clear policies and high expectations; providing health education that may prevent girls from engaging in risky behaviors (such as early sexual experimentation or substance abuse); teaching problem-solving and communication skills; identifying learning disabilities; and offering early remediation to keep academic development on track. Similarly, communities can help build resilient girls by fostering positive identity development, including strong cultural or ethnic identities. By working together, families, schools, and communities can provide a network of support for girls (Benard, 1991).

Gender-specific programs are designed with an understanding of the connection between risk factors girls face at adolescence and protective factors that can help them avoid delinquency.

Risk Factors
  • Early sexual experimentation
  • Academic failure
  • History of sexual abuse
  • Low self-esteem
  • Dysfunctional family system
  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Substance abuse
Protective Factors
  • Delay of sexual experimentation
  • Academic success/progress
  • Positive sexual development
  • Positive self-esteem
  • Positive family environment
  • Positive minority identity
  • Positive gender identity
  • Prosocial skills and competence

Guiding Principles for Promising
Female Programming
October 1998