clear   Appendix:   Boys Town USA, Staff-Secure Detention Program for Female Juvenile Offenders
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

At A Glance

Staff-secure detention with individualized treatment plans and programming for girls ages 11 to 18 years who are awaiting placement by juvenile court; capacity, 18 girls; funded by the city of Philadelphia, private donations, and a national endowment

Boys Town, which began serving homeless and delinquent boys more than 80 years ago (as Father Flanagan's Boys' Home), has evolved to become a multidimensional treatment agency for children and families. In 1979, Boys Town began serving girls. In 1988, Boys Town began to implement gender-specific programming to meet the unique needs of girls. In 1996, the Boys Town Detention Center for Girls was opened in Philadelphia in response to the city's request for a detention facility for female delinquents. It is housed in a three-story refurbished convent, with seven large bedrooms. The warm, colorful environment includes both classical art and more contemporary works celebrating ethnic minorities and women.

The philosophy at the girls' facility in Philadelphia is consistent with the organization's overall vision: "to change the way America takes care of her at-risk children" through "old-fashioned love and respect and new-fashioned science." Girls are encouraged to learn about themselves in relation to others.

The staff is overwhelmingly female and racially diverse (more than 90 percent ethnic minorities, predominately African Americans with two Hispanics). By policy, male staff members never spend time alone with female clients. New staff members spend 120 hours in preservice training, one-third of which focuses on gender-specific issues such as attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity in girls, sexual acting out, female hygiene, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy prevention, and eating disorders. Inservice training is ongoing, with meetings held at least weekly. Staff positions include youth care workers, senior youth care workers, case manager, staff supervisor, coordinator, interventionist, and site director.

Girls are referred to the program by the courts. More than 90 percent are members of minority groups; 87 percent are from single-parent homes; the average age is 15. Many girls face multiple charges, often including person offenses or probation violation. Most girls have encountered a host of risk factors, including physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, risk of pregnancy, truancy, school dropout, history of aggressive or violent behavior, history of mental problems, attempted or contemplated suicide, developmental disabilities, and lack of adult supervision. Staff consider lack of adult supervision to be the most prominent risk factor, and also the factor likely to lead to all the other risk factors.

Although girls may stay at the center for only a brief time, Boys Town attempts to treat the whole child. Holistic treatment begins at intake, when each girl receives a comprehensive assessment and an individual treatment plan that is based on her specific issues and needs. Assessments follow girls to all subsequent placements. Individual treatment plans focus on long- and short-term goals, life skills, and inhibiting behaviors. Individual plans incorporate group and individual counseling, which may focus on specific female issues such as victimization and self-esteem. Girls also complete an individualized "treatment workbook." At intake, each girl is paired with a "buddy" from the staff who helps her become acclimated to the program.

Community reintegration is a key focus of treatment and programming. A girl's family is assessed soon after she enters the program, and treatment involves her family or guardian. Sessions with the "family interventionist" focus on specific issues and incorporate problem solving and behavioral counseling. As a result of meetings with the girl and her family or guardian, probation officer, and program staff, the interested parties agree to a contract about their expectations for the girl and her family or guardian's participation in proposed aftercare.

Life skills targeted for development are those deemed most likely to assist girls in making a smooth transition after leaving the program. They include communication, social skills, personal hygiene, independent living, goal setting, problem solving, anger management, and self care. The program also promotes alternatives to negative behaviors. Staff encourage positive behaviors through the practice of "teaching," in which they give girls feedback on their behavior throughout the day. Girls also participate in academic classes and career counseling. Onsite recreation and field trips are offered as rewards for personal achievement.

Aftercare is provided for up to six months after discharge.

Return to Program Chart

Guiding Principles for Promising
Female Programming
October 1998