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In my previous blog I noted that successful programs for girls in the juvenile justice system were rare. In this blog I will highlight a few examples of recently developed programs that show great promise.

Researchers and girls paint a picture of complex needs that include the daunting problems of lacking a family that can support adolescent development or provide basic safety, dangerous neighborhoods, individual trauma from sexual and other abuse, involvement in prostitution, relationships with older men with high potential for exploitation, academic failure, substance abuse and lack of preparation to earn a living and live on one’s own. Services must be comprehensive and adapted to a particular girl’s family and neighborhood context, and they must be available to girls before they penetrate deeply into the juvenile justice system, during those vulnerable years from 9 to 14, and after they are in serious trouble.

In order to provide meaningful role models and programming relevant to youths in particular types of communities and school settings by virtue of their gender, race, ethnicity, and geographic location, all of the programs that were assessed concentrated their efforts on girls, and several of them were for girls of particular racial and ethnic groups. Thus, the programs could be gender- (and sometimes racial and ethnic group) responsive, as girls did not have to compete with boys for emphasis in the focus of the program or for staff time and attention; also staff could be selected to provide the appropriate range of women and men with different knowledge and experience to be matched to the actual situation and needs of the girls.

Several programs seem very promising, including: Urban Women Against Substance Abuse, Project Naja, Reaffirming Young Sisters’ Excellence, Project Chrysalis, Working to Insure and Nurture Girls’ Success, The Center for Young Women’s Development (located in San Francisco) and Movimiento Ascendencia.

Each of these programs target most of the above-referenced needs of girls. For instance, Reaffirming Young Sisters’ Excellence included parenting education and support groups, organized mother – daughter activities (e.g., a tea”), and the presence of siblings at the girls’ graduation ceremonies. Urban Women Against Substance Abuse focused on strengthening mother – daughter communication and relationships through interventions for the girls, a parallel curriculum for mothers, and monthly mother – daughter sharing sessions. Working to Insure and Nurture Girls’ Success had a mandatory family group counseling session that could be relationship counseling, mother – daughter mediation, anger management or conflict resolution. Going even further than other programs that use and build girls’ support of each other, The Center for Young Women’s Development trained and employed girls to meet each other’s needs as they developed a committed community of their own. This program is unique in that it gave girls financial resources to help each other on a sustained basis. Three programs (Project Chrysalis and Movimiento Ascendencia, Working to Insure and Nurture Girls’ Success) have assertiveness and self-defense and safety classes. In the long run, empowerment for any girl rests on preparation for a good job, and related academic success. Several programs — for example, Working to Insure and Nurture Girls’ Success, Reaffirming Young Sisters’ Excellence, Movimiento Ascendencia — provided tutoring, instruction, special education and/​or referral and advocacy to access community education resources.

More details are provided for each of these programs on their web sites as noted above.