clear   Chapter 3:   Comprehensive, Gender-Specific Services
What Is The Best Overall Approach?

Just as no one path leads a girl to trouble, there is no single solution to female delinquency. Effective programs work with girls in all sorts of ways and in a variety of settings and share some common wisdom about what adolescent females need to overcome the challenges that can interfere with healthy development.

Delinquency prevention for girls is proactive. It focuses on creating healthy attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyles. It gives individuals the power to meet the challenges of life events and transitions, and skills to help them realize their potential (Girls Incorporated, 1996). By providing activities that promote social competence, programs give girls needed opportunities to safely explore their strengths and recognize their weaknesses in a variety of contexts.

Gender-specific programming works to boost girls' confidence at the critical point of adolescence, when their self-esteem is at risk of plummeting. A gender-specific approach deliberately introduces, models, and reinforces strong, positive messages about being female. These messages teach girls that they have options in life, challenging persistent sex-role stereotyping that would have them believe otherwise.

A gender-specific program promotes the health of the girl and her community. When prevention works to uplift an individual girl, her increased health, vibrancy, and competence benefit her larger community. Delinquency prevention at the community level extends these positive, proactive messages and fosters change that will benefit all girls.

Gender-specific strategies include:

  • Providing information: Girls need accurate, honest, and timely information to help them understand the consequences of high-risk behavior and make healthier life choices (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 1993; Tobler, 1992). Information that speaks directly and effectively to delinquent girls can puncture the denial, myths, and false rationalizations that may have sustained their risky behaviors. Good information is delivered with respect and in a manner that girls can understand. It motivates them to listen and to act (Glenn, 1996; Rothman & David, 1985). Reaching the target audience may require the involvement of messengers from outside the program, such as crisis workers, teachers, counselors, peer educators, or members of the media (National Institutes of Health, 1989).

  • Delivering education: Educating delinquent girls involves more than teaching them the rudiments of reading and math. It means educating girls to be able to meet the complex challenges of life. Intervention strategies teach girls how to get along in life, including specific skills such as decisionmaking, problem solving, negotiation, anger and stress management, and assertive communication (Newman & Newman, 1995; Botvin & Botvin, 1992). Preventive programs prepare girls to be competent by teaching vocational and job-seeking skills, money management, and literacy. Girls who have a history of academic failure may need help to overcome their learning deficits or cope with learning disabilities (Hodges, J., et al., 1994). Alternative learning approaches may be helpful in serving girls who have failed to thrive in mainstream classroom settings.

  • Providing alternatives: Intervention strategies are designed to help delinquent girls make major changes in their lives. For many girls, this may mean giving up specific behaviors or ending relationships that are now perceived as risky or unhealthy. Effective programming will provide replacements for these "missing pieces" of a girl's life. Alternatives to delinquent behavior can include volunteer activities, extracurricular programs such as sports or the arts, urban or rural exploration, or any other activities that build positive life skills (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 1993; Fisher & Harrison, 1997).

  • Mobilizing community and professional support: Community resources can greatly expand the network of support for delinquent girls. Adult mentors who understand prevention strategies can be powerful allies and positive role models for girls. Mobilizing community support involves: outreach efforts to draw adults into a program; orientation and training to educate them about prevention strategies; monitoring to ensure that adult volunteers and girls maintain active and healthy relationships (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 1993; Caliber Associates, 1995).

  • Providing group and individual activities: Comprehensive programming addresses behavior in context. As a result, programs deliver services to match each individual girl's needs, geared to her developmental level, while also providing group activities.

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Guiding Principles for Promising
Female Programming
October 1998