Promoting Gender-Responsive Care for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System
Tailored, trauma informed programming and interventions that are rooted in anti-racist, LGBTQ+ affirming, and gender-responsive principles are a promising approach to improving the outcomes of girls involved in the youth legal system.
Over the last two decades, the number and proportion of female-identified youth that were arrested, detained, or placed on probation has increased in Washington State and across the nation. As CCYJ studied this concerning trend, it became clear that girls in the youth legal system are starkly different from boys — in their histories, behaviors, pathways to court involvement, strengths, needs and outcomes.
Further, striking trends of overrepresentation and disparate treatment are clear among BIPOC and LGBTQ+ girls involved in the youth legal system. BIPOC girls, in particular Native American and Black girls, are dramatically overrepresented. Research has also shown that girls of color are perceived differently than those who are White; this has a critical impact on decision-making during sentencing, and multiple studies demonstrate that girls of color receive harsher sentences when compared to girls who are White. Similar disparities and experiences are seen among LGBTQ+ identified girls. They may be disproportionately represented in the justice system at three times the rate of the general population, and, once involved, can experience bias and trauma within the system based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression (SOGIE).
CCYJ developed a comprehensive Girls Court Literature Review, which echoes key trends among justice-involved girls:
- Girls are more likely than boys to become involved in the youth legal system for lower-level charges and status offences (a status offenses is conduct considered a crime due to the alleged offender’s age, such as skipping school or underage drinking);
- Girls in the system have greater histories of trauma and other adverse childhood experiences compared to boys, such as exposure physical or sexual abuse, victimization, family conflict, and involvement in the child welfare system;
- Girls in the system – whose treatment needs go unmet – are at high risk for recidivism, school dropout, future involvement in the child welfare system as parents, and entry in adult prison systems; and
- There is a general consensus by practitioners and researchers that gender-responsive reforms (policy, practice, and programs) are needed to respond to justice-involved girls’ unique risk factors and needs.
The types of interventions recognized as supportive of girls differ from what is known to be impactful with boys. The current youth legal system does not holistically respond to the critical needs of girls, and the consequence of overlooking girls’ unique identities and needs can unintentionally further exacerbate trauma, and likely leave a negative impact even after their involvement within the legal system. Tailored, trauma informed programming and interventions that are rooted in anti-racist, LGBTQ+ affirming, and gender-responsive principles are a promising approach to improving the outcomes of girls involved in the youth legal system.
To address these issues, CCYJ works alongside community stakeholders and court systems to develop Washington’s first gender-responsive court.
What We’ve Done:
- Collaborated with Kitsap County Juvenile Court, to design, develop, and implement Washington’s first gender-responsive court program. The Kitsap County Girls Court program is currently in its second year of a three year pilot program. As the state’s first court-led therapeutic intervention model for girls, it is based on best practice research, driven by local data, and rooted in gender-responsive principles.
- Partnered with the Washington Center for Court Research (WSCCR)to evaluate the Kitsap County Girls Court Program effectiveness and identify key strengths and areas of improvement. Recent evaluations have identified unique experiences and challenges of first-year program participants, and stakeholders’ perspectives of key program strengths and challenges.
- Established a multi-disciplinary Advisory Committee to guide the development of a model for a research-based, locally adaptable Girls Court program.
What We’re Doing Now:
- Continuing the ongoing partnership with the Kitsap County Juvenile Court. CCYJ remains actively engaged with the Kitsap County Girls Court team, providing technical assistance and training support – in areas such as the Science of Hope, race and equity, and LGBTQ+ services – to the program’s staff and stakeholders.
- Supporting ongoing research and evaluation to develop best practices and determine the impact of Girls Court services. By supporting a strong working relationship between the WSCCR and the Kitsap County Girls Court team, evaluation findings are continuously reviewed to identify and address key strengths, barriers, and areas of improvement. Through these partnerships and our commitment to continuous quality improvement, we hope to develop a model that can be replicated in juvenile courts across the country.
- Sharing the knowledge about what we’re learning. As funding allows, we hope to replicate this model in additional pilot sites, or even research what other gender responsive court systems could look like. Until then, we are committed to sharing what we discover as the program gains experience and insight into what is working, and what isn’t working.
Girls Court Program Evaluation
The Washington State Center for Court Research (WSCCR) is currently evaluating the Kitsap County Girls Court Program. Below are links to three new evaluation reports:
- First-year Girls Court Participants: Experiences and Challenges. This report provides a summary of key descriptive characteristics of the Girls Court participants during the first year of the program, including their demographic characteristics, risk level, behavioral health issues and other needs arising out of their life circumstances. This information is critical for understanding who the clients are and what they bring into the treatment setting.
- Voices from the Field: Findings from Interviews with Court Professionals and Service Providers. This report summarizes the findings from the interviews with service providers and youth legal systems The interviews were designed to better understand the effectiveness of the Girls Court Program through the lens of key experts and individuals that are directly involved with the program and or/program participants. Professional stakeholders generously shared invaluable feedback that collectively provide a map to guide the future work with justice-involved girls as related to program operational aspects, service delivery and program effectiveness.
- Community Profile: Kitsap County Community Assessment. The goal of this assessment was to summarize key contextual characteristics of the local community in which the Girls Court program is operating. These include school experiences, substance use, and mental health. For each dimension, the report describes the prevalence of the issue(s) in the Kitsap community, discusses its implications for the program, and suggests recommendations for program implementation. From an evaluation perspective, examining community contextual factors provides important information about barriers and challenges to program implementation that can explain variation in outcomes in a manner that can be used to improve future intervention design.
Interested in Learning More?
To learn more about how you can support our efforts to help improve outcomes for girls in the youth legal system, please contact CCYJ’s Associate Director of Programs for Girls Court, Morgan Silverman at 206.696.7503 x 110 or email email@example.com.