clear   Chapter 2:   Policy And Program Development For Serving Female Juvenile Delinquents
Policies That Encourage Gender Specific Programming

The 1992 reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 required states to apply for federal formula grant dollars to examine their juvenile justice systems and identify gaps in their ability to provide services to juvenile female offenders. The Act now requires states to include in their analysis of juvenile crime problems: "an analysis of gender-specific services for the prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency, including the types of such services available and the need for services for females; and a plan for providing needed gender-specific services for the prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency." (Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, 1992)

The reauthorized act encourages states to examine how they deal with girls, and also to make changes in their overall programming for girls. Approximately 25 states have developed plans or established programs to address the needs of female juvenile offenders within their systems (Community Research Associates, 1997). The remaining 25 states and the District of Columbia are in the process of examining the issue of gender-specific programming, or debating the need for it. Those states still addressing this issue can look to states that have taken groundbreaking steps to assist female delinquents. The following examples highlight the steps that a variety of jurisdictions have followed to develop and implement policies for serving girls.


In 1978, Minnesota formed its first statewide task force to look at the needs of women offenders. In the two decades since then, the state has continued to expand programming not only for women offenders, but also for juvenile females.

Mary Scully Whitaker, Minnesota's director of planning for female offenders, oversees efforts to improve gender-specific services for all female offenders, regardless of age. It's no accident that planning for girls is handled by the same office that plans for adult women. "Developmentally, girls are a lot more like women than they are like boys or men," Scully Whitaker explains.

In Minnesota, the following steps have been key to improving services for girls:

Planning for equity: The 1978 task force on women offenders resulted three years later in a statute on parity for women offenders and the creation of a permanent Advisory Task Force on the Woman Offender in Corrections. After the statute on parity was amended to include juvenile girls, the task force evolved to become the Advisory Task Force on Adult and Juvenile Female Offenders in Corrections. A subcommittee of the task force focuses on adolescent females.

Addressing special needs of girls: A state corrections report published in 1989 ("State Plan for the '90s") cited glaring gaps in services for girl offenders. As a first step to improve services, a statewide conference was planned to train corrections staff on how to work with young female offenders. "We were going to do one conference," Scully Whitaker recalls. "We wanted all those people who work with girls, from across a variety of disciplines, to tell us what works, and why."

The first conference, in 1991, drew about 200 attendees. It was so successful that it has become an annual event (the Minnesota Conference on Adolescent Females), and is now a cornerstone of gender-specific programming efforts. The conference has grown to include more than 400 attendees from across the state, as well as representatives from other states and national agencies. In 1998, conference topics varied widely, including the impact of sports and physical activity on the lives of adolescent girls, successful teen relationships, media images of female adolescents, and girls and their economic futures.

Seeking creative solutions: The annual conference encourages and inspires creative problem-solving in working with girls. From the beginning, the conference has been designed to draw in participants across disciplines and from a variety of agencies, so that they can learn from one another. In addition to lectures and discussion groups, presentations at the conference have involved dance, ethnic music, mask making, and other multicultural presentations "that appeal to the creative person in each of us," Scully Whitaker explains. "It's our belief that we have to be creative in the ways we work with girls." In 1998, for instance, the conference included a play about AIDS written by a female high school student, a rap music performance, and a workshop on using literary and musical resources for facing loss and grief.

"Before, I didn't care. I wasn't sociable. I was rude and tough and always getting into fiIthought the world was supposed to revolve around me. Now I know it doesn't."

-PACE participant,
interviewed in Tallahassee Democrat
Encouraging girls' voices: The theme for the annual conference was "Promoting Voices, Increasing Choices." To promote voice during adolescence, panels of girls are invited to speak to attendees. "We need to hear what these girls know – what's helped them, what they still need," Scully Whitaker says. Although girls who have been involved in the justice system are typically on the panels, the conference also invites participation from girls who have avoided delinquency. They might address questions such as, "What has helped promote your self-esteem?" Or, "What masks do girls wear in public?"

Planning across disciplines: Planning for the annual conference involves input from those who work with girls in a variety of contexts (private therapists, community mental health staff, corrections workers, county and local agency representatives, staff from private organizations, and others). Leadership for the conference involves both familiar faces, for consistency, and new faces, to encourage fresh ideas and creative thinking. Typically, conference planners serve for two years so that there is an overlap of experienced and new leadership. Scholarships are offered to further expand participation.

Encouraging model programs: Since 1993, Minnesota has awarded model program grants to community-based programs that provide gender-specific services. The grants help fund programs that serve underserved populations, especially girls living in culturally specific communities and in rural areas. "Rather than being too prescriptive, we want to encourage programs that deliver what girls in local communities need," Scully Whitaker says. For example, some model programs have focused on fostering stronger bonds between mothers and daughters, while others have helped girls leave prostitution. Some of the programs that began with state grants have since become self-sustaining.

Building allies: Recognizing that girls need allies, the task force subcommittee that deals with adolescent issues has started a grassroots effort to enlist support from citizens. As Scully Whitaker explains: "We're starting to maintain a list of people we call our 'allies and angels.' These are people who may not have time to serve on committees, but they share a passion about helping girls. They might be moms and dads, teachers, or other community members. When an issue comes up-whether it's testifying before the legislature or responding to advertisements that promote a negative image of women-we can count on them for support."

Overcoming obstacles: Educating policymakers about the need for gender-specific programming is an ongoing challenge in Minnesota. Some policymakers who have long fought for gender equality, for example, may be resistant to hearing that girls' needs are different than boys'. Others may not perceive young female offenders as being as "dangerous" as boys, and therefore not as needy of services. A new emphasis on program outcomes is expected to help focus attention on the elements of successful programs for girls. "In the meantime," Scully Whitaker acknowledges, "we continue to face challenges because we (girls and women in corrections) are a minority." Delivering gender-specific services, she adds, often means "people have to think differently."


Asking questions: "What were we doing to serve girls?"

That fundamental question about gender-specific services was posed statewide in Maryland in 1992 by a task force empanelled to focus attention on the needs and issues of female juveniles.

Marian Daniel, area director for Baltimore City Department of Juvenile Justice, had previous field experience working with young female delinquents. She knew firsthand that girls had specific needs to address, especially around the general subject of sexuality. As a female probation officer, Daniel had organized informal groups for the girls she supervised. Daniel also knew from experience that many probation officers considered girls' cases difficult to handle because they often involved emotional and relationship issues. Many girls in trouble react by running away, a tendency that makes their cases harder to manage, Daniel notes.

Reorganizing caseloads: Daniel proposed reorganizing the juvenile caseload in Baltimore, so that all girls on probation would be supervised by a single unit. Their probation officers would be trained to work exclusively with juvenile females. By sending out a "want ad" about the program to her staff of 200, Daniel recruited 10 probation officers interested in forming the new unit, which was named the Female Intervention Team (FIT).

The next step was to reassign cases to the new team. Daniel made an enticing offer to her entire staff. She told them, "I will give you 10 boys for every girl you transfer to the new unit." Many probation officers were so eager to be rid of girls' cases, they willingly expanded their caseloads with boys' cases. No additional funding was required to launch the program, because it involved reassigning existing staff.

Connecting girls with existing services: With staff and clientele in place, Daniel recalled, the next step was to figure out, "What are we going to do with these girls?" She and the FIT staff contacted Baltimore area service programs that were already working with girls. The Urban League, for example, had established programs designed to promote self-esteem. The local health department was running groups for adolescents. A local physician had a one-year grant to prevent teen pregnancy. These program providers and others were invited to work with the girls and staff involved in FIT.

Training staff to work with girls: Since FIT began, both staff training and program development have been ongoing. The program continues to evolve as the factors that put girls at risk of delinquency become better understood and documented by research. The statewide task force, for instance, conducted assessments of girls in institutions and documented a high incidence of sexual abuse, sexually transmitted disease, and teen pregnancy. That information has helped the FIT staff understand patterns in delinquent girls' behavior, and has guided program development.

Remaining flexible: Rather than channeling girls through a highly structured program, FIT remains flexible to better meet individual girls' needs and respond to changes in the population of girls on probation. For example, girls can become involved in groups that specifically address:

  • Teen parenting issues

  • Sexual abuse

  • Pregnancy prevention and family planning (incorporating a prop called "Baby Think It Over," a lifelike doll which girls have to nurture and feed to gain a sense of the responsibility involved in parenting)

  • Infant and toddler care, including developmental assessment

  • Substance abuse education

Building positive gender identity: FIT offers a "rites of passage" program designed to help girls make a positive transition to womanhood. The program builds cultural and spiritual awareness, celebrating girls' passage to womanhood with symbols and rituals. Because the clientele is predominately African American, program elements incorporate culturally specific themes and include African-American role models. "Rites of passage" typically involves girls in a community service project, such as volunteering at a nursing home where they can have positive interactions with elders. The program culminates in a graduation ceremony, which Daniel stresses is an important way for a girl to say, "I was successful."

FIT also works with the Girl Scouts to provide girls with positive recreational activities and promote social learning.

Developing career and job skills: As FIT continues to evolve, new program components are being added to help girls prepare for careers and develop job skills. For example, a college intern developed a program to foster academic and career enrichment. Female role models, working in traditional and nontraditional career fields, meet with the girls and talk about career choices. The girls receive training on how to prepare for work, including how to interview for a job and how to dress appropriately on the job. Another program uses computers to teach girls technical skills. Computers are also used to prepare girls for GED or SAT tests.

Some program components are more informal. For example, FIT took a group of girls on a one-day field trip to Harlem, where they toured museums and theaters. For many of the girls, Daniel said, it was their first trip out of the city (except, perhaps, for detention in a state facility).

Involving families: In addition to the programs for girls, FIT also conducts groups for the parents of participants. Many of the parents were themselves teen mothers and may also share other risk factors that have impacted their daughters' lives, such as a history of sexual abuse. Parent groups offer a forum for discussing issues that often span generations.

Creating a female-friendly environment: The physical space that houses FIT is designed to be friendly to females, including girls who are teen parents. The office includes child-sized tables and chairs where toddlers can play or hear a story. Even the posters on the walls are chosen to deliver a positive message to girls. (One, for example, lists "100 ways to say no to sex.")

Daniel highlights several steps taken in Baltimore that she believes would be helpful in other communities interested in providing gender-specific programs:

  • Train staff to understand the special needs of girls

  • Understand the role of relationships in girls' lives

  • Build success components into the program, so that girls achieve a sense of accomplishment

  • Be flexible to meet the needs of the girls being served

Currently, FIT has a staff of 13 probation officers and a supervisor. Approximately 375 girls within the city of Baltimore are being served by the program.


Sharing concerns: In 1987, a group of social service providers began meeting to discuss the lack of coordinated services for Oregon's girls and young women involved, or at risk of becoming involved, in juvenile justice or welfare systems. The group recognized that changes in state detention laws and the use of close custody secure placements had had a significant impact on delinquent girls. Before 1983, adolescents could be placed in secure detention for their protection and to prevent them from destructive behavior. This practice was frequently used, for example, to hold female status offenders with histories of running away. While providing at least a temporary solution to the problem of secure housing for female runaways, the practice had resulted in an inequitable use of detention or training school commitment between girls and boys. Girls were typically placed for less serious offenses and held longer. Changes mandated by the state legislature in 1983 had resulted in a dramatic reduction in the total number of girls held in close custody facilities. Meanwhile, specialized programs serving at-risk girls were limited in number and served girls only in metropolitan areas. (Oregon Commission on Children and Youth Services, 1990)

Formalizing a study group: The group evolved to become the "At-Risk Girls and Young Women's Study Group," which served as a subcommittee to the Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee (JJAC). Its mission was to study the apparent lack of programs specifically designed to deal with the problems girls and young women face.

Initial findings and recommendations: The study group recognized the cyclical nature of problems facing at-risk girls, such as teen pregnancy, child and sexual abuse, domestic violence and later dependency on welfare systems. The group sought to develop a system of services that could respond effectively to these gender-specific problems. The group's initial recommendations to improve services to girls and young women included:

  • Developing a solid funding base for a coordinated system of services designed to meet the needs of girls

  • Establishing education and training activities and materials to increase public awareness and assist agencies in serving at-risk females

  • Developing strategies to promote policy and system reform to assure adequate services for female juveniles and to reduce the number of girls at risk in Oregon

  • Developing regional, coordinated planning efforts to further study the needs of at-risk girls and young women in Oregon's communities

First-year projects: State funding was authorized for four regional projects in 1988-89. The projects shared a common goal of increasing local and statewide awareness of the problems facing at-risk girls and young women and the issues that affect service delivery to these populations. Reports from these initial projects identified gaps in services for at-risk girls.

Second-year project: Funding for a second-year project followed in 1989-90. The Oregon Commission on Children and Youth Services involved three regional organizations to work on:

  • A statewide planning process, including a county-by-county assessment to gather information about at-risk girls across the state

  • Detailed information-gathering about current services to identified target populations

  • Research on model programs serving girls in Oregon

  • Development of service-specific recommendations based on the findings of the project

Identifying target populations: The individual county assessments (both urban and rural) consistently identified four target subpopulations of at-risk girls and young women:

  • Drug and alcohol abusing girls

  • Pregnant and parenting teens

  • Abused girls

  • Homeless/ "throwaway" adolescent females

Identifying these four target populations (and recognizing that some girls have multiple needs) helped to focus planning efforts. For each target population, recommendations were made for developing and delivering services.

Identifying model programs and key features: Model programs serving the four target populations in communities throughout the state were identified. Features of effective programs for girls were identified as:

  • Coordination of services in the local community to maximize effectiveness

  • Use of case management to assure that an appropriate continuum of care is provided

  • Formal or informal support groups

  • Advocacy on behalf of girls

  • Individual, group, and family counseling

  • Encouragement of self-sufficiency through educational activities, living skills components, and other exercises

  • Creating safe environments for learning and socializing

  • Gender-specific treatment approaches

Working for equity: The Oregon Commission on Children and Youth Services assisted in the passage of legislation to provide equity for females. The legislation requires "equal access for both males and females under 18 years of age to appropriate facilities, services and treatment…through all state agencies providing or funding human services and juvenile corrections programs for children and adolescents." (Wood, 1994)


In 1994, a group of individuals within the Cook County juvenile justice system convened to conduct research on girls in the juvenile justice system; to assess the system and its effect on girls; and to advocate gender-specific programming for girls. From this group of individuals, a steering committee was formed. Included are representatives from more than 20 public and private agencies throughout Cook County that work with girls involved in the juvenile justice system.

With support from a planning grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the steering committee accomplished the following gender- specific initiatives:

"Gender-specific programs let me know that even in a 'man's world,' a lot can be accomplished by women, and someday it might not be a man's world."

-Participan, Harriet
Tubman Residential Center
Developing gender-specific assessment tools: With the assistance of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), two gender-specific assessment tools were developed for use with girls in the juvenile justice system. The Risk Assessment Instrument objectively classifies a girl's risk of re-offending and can help decisionmakers and service providers in targeting limited resources. The Strengths/Needs Assessment Instrument helps service providers to plan and deliver gender-specific interventions. The Cook County Juvenile Probation Department, in cooperation with GIRLS LINK (see below), has contracted with NCCD to develop policies, procedures, and classification systems for standardizing the use of the Risk Assessment Instrument and the Strengths/Needs Assessment Instrument. In addition, the Juvenile Probation Department now has a Female Offender Unit that will use these gender-specific assessment tools.

Publishing a resource directory: A resource directory of gender-specific programs for girls in the juvenile justice system was developed and distributed to agencies throughout Cook County. The directory includes programs addressing teen pregnancy and parenthood, physical and sexual abuse, substance abuse, and gang involvement.

Coordinating training programs: Training programs have been coordinated for individuals working within the Cook County juvenile justice system, including community-service providers. The focus is to provide training on issues affecting girls and the value of gender-specific programming for girls. These training programs cover the latest gender-specific research and provide both resource materials and technical assistance necessary to expand the continuum of services for girls involved in or at risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Piloting a gender-specific case-management model: A pilot gender-specific case-management model that addresses continuum-of-care issues was implemented in January 1998 in two Chicago police districts. The model links a case manager with a girl, beginning from initial police contact and continuing through release from the Department of Corrections. The case manager travels into the girl's community and builds a trusting relationship that helps foster effective intervention. Plans are being developed to expand the model into other geographic areas.

Establishing a mission, goals, and new initiatives: In October 1997, the steering committee formally adopted the name GIRLS LINK and the following mission statement:

"GIRLS LINK, together with decisionmakers, service providers, and the community, will develop a systemic culture that recognizes the importance of increasing resources designed to meet the special needs of girls who are involved in or at risk of becoming involved in the Cook County juvenile justice system."

Four standing committees were developed to provide the leadership to accomplish the four major goals of GIRLS LINK: advocacy, education, policy development, and programming. The advocacy committee advocates on behalf of GIRLS LINK for political, moral, financial, and practical support of the organization. The policy committee develops policy, standards, and guidelines for gender-specific programming for girls in the juvenile justice system. The program committee is responsible for the development, oversight, and refinement of the GIRLS LINK case-management model. The education committee identifies training needs, as well as developing, coordinating, and implementing gender-specific training with an emphasis on implementation of the case-management model.

GIRLS LINK is developing plans to expand its efforts on behalf of girls on a national level by collaborating with other states. GIRLS LINK has appointed an executive director and has outlined goals for collaboration with the state of Connecticut in planning and developing systemic changes in female programming. In return, Connecticut will share its graduated continuum of sanctions, services, and prevention interventions with Cook County. GIRLS LINK is also adding a new component that will advocate specialized services for pregnant and/or parenting girls in the juvenile justice system. These new initiatives are also funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.


In 1995, the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services developed a work group made up of professionals from diverse fields across the state. Their mission was to gather information on existing justice services for girls. Their report to the governor recommended focus groups across the system. Five focus groups were conducted with professionals working within the system. Six focus groups were conducted with girls. The focus groups highlighted the following concerns, which are being used to guide program development within the state (Belknap, Holsinger & Dunn, 1997):

  • Lack of facilities for female delinquents

  • Insufficient funding

  • Lack of parental involvement

  • Girls' perceived lack of respect from staff

  • Girls' concern that males had more privileges, more space, more equipment, and better treatment

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Guiding Principles for Promising
Female Programming
October 1998