CSSP’s Alliance for Racial Equity in Child Welfare’s second brief in the Fight for Our Girls series centers the importance of crafting a more holistic narrative for girls of color who are involved in public systems. The brief suggests this narrative can be achieved by systems applying a trauma-informed approach and intersectional lens when developing programs, policies and practices.
Public systems often subject girls – disproportionately girls of color– to harsher punishments for lower-level crimes and status offenses. In fact, girls who commit these behaviors - such as running away, missing school and violating curfew – can be narrowly defined as social problems that require intervention at the individual level. It is important to avoid conceptualizing status offenses as individual problems or as social problems. Instead, a trauma-informed approach should consider what underlying factors may be leading girls to these behaviors. For example, behaviors like running away, truancy and violating curfew are often methods of survival and are likely caused by underlying trauma such as abuse, commercial sexual exploitation and family conflict.
In addition to the high likelihood that girls are committing status offenses as methods of survival is the challenge of adults’ perceptions of girls, especially on girls of color. The latest Fight for Our Girls brief outlines research conducted by Lisa Pasko, which found that girls, and disproportionately girls of color, face added challenges such as biases, stereotypes and historic oppression when coming in contact with public systems. Pasko’s research, which consisted of interviews with probation officers, social workers, therapists and residential placement staff, revealed that system stakeholders have a hyper focus on policing girls for their perceived sexuality rather than focusing on their overall well-being.
Adultification is yet another challenge that arises for girls of color that can be attributed to adult perception. The recently released Girlhood Interrupted report cites adultification of Black girls as problematic beliefs that they need less nurturing, less protection, less support, less comfort, are more independent and that they know more about sex and other adult topics.
Fight for Our Girls points to recent research to uncover the racial, ethnic and gender biases that may be leading girls of color to be subjected to disparate treatment for status offenses.
Juvenile justice and child welfare systems must work to address the structural inequities and trauma that so often contribute to girls committing status offenses in order to fully support the ability of girls of color to thrive. The latest Fight for Our Girls brief highlights successful organizations that are working to change this narrative and puts forth the following recommendations: Public systems should (1) collect and report data that captures the involvement of youth in child welfare systems for status offenses, (2) develop meaningful cross-systems partnerships, (3) implement community-based prevention models that promote youth stability and placement in the community, (4) utilize youth advisory boards and youth engagement strategies to inform effective program development and implementation, (5) fully implement the reauthorized Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, and (6) create safe and affirming spaces for LGBTQ youth and transgender girls of color.
To learn more, read the full brief here.
Don’t forget to join us on Thursday, October 26, 3-4 p.m EST for our #FFOG: Fight For Our Girls Twitter Chat.
Erika Feinman is a program and research assistant at CSSP.