The Girls Study: Lodestar for Change

Post by Maureen Fischer,  MaureenInk Communications,  Twitter: @ MaureenFischer,  www.MaureenInk.com

Note:  Social Media Consultant Maureen Fischer contributed hundreds of hours of her time to Amicus in launching this blog and integrating it with our other social media.  Thanks Maureen! You’ve made “Inside Change” something we can all be proud of. You’re always an Amicus in our eyes!

The Amicus Girls Study contains surprising information to many about gender responsive programs for girls. Louise Wolfgramm, President of Amicus and the driving force behind it,  says “Girls are resilient, but they need attention.  It’s like watering a plant just about gone and watching it come back to life.”

The study provides valuable insights into what is happening to girls in  the juvenile justice system in Minnesota. It focuses attention on them at a time when research shows their ranks are growing in the U.S. Corrections System.  In 2007, 33.5 % of the juveniles arrested in Minnesota were girls, almost 15,000 that year. Girls also represent over 44 % of Minnesota’s out-of-home placement population—over 6,500 girls in 2007. According to The Girls Study, resources for gender-informed corrections programs have not kept pace with this expanding demand.

A  2009 report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety reveals that when compared to boys, girls have:

  • experienced more significant sexual abuse and trauma history
  • engaged in more risky sexual behavior
  • experienced more significant physical and mental health problems
  • engaged in  more self-defeating behaviors, including running away and skipping school

Amicus obtained a grant from the state of Minnesota in 2008 and spent two years compiling The Girls Study. More than 220 corrections and social work professionals, caregivers, women in Shakopee Correctional Facility and the girls themselves participated. Amicus held 32 focus groups, and interviewed individuals at 15 sites across Minnesota. The report was released in May of 2010.


What stands out  like a train whistle in the night is the voices of the girls:

“My first boyfriend told me that cutting myself would be a good idea, when we started skipping school.  He broke up with me, and I  drank a bottle  of whisky in one hour because I thought my world was ending.”

“I felt like I was nothing.”

“Being locked up is traumatizing for girls.  I know.”

“It makes me feel bad about myself because I lied to a lot of people I really care about.”

The report’s  recommendations were gleaned from verbatims, toplines, a  lit review and a synthesis of views from girls, caregivers, and professionals, as well as data from the State of Minnesota.

Recommendations

From the girls, the message was:

  • Please be responsive to me; act from an understanding of me and my unique circumstances.
  • Many of us have been hurt emotionally, physically, sexually, often by those who should have been nurturing and protecting us. Know this before you act.
  • Get to know the real me: relationship is key.
  • Our families are necessary for our healing and our success.

From caregivers came a plea for communication and understanding:

  • Be available when we need you.
  • Consult with us and keep us informed.
  • Don’t overload our girls with too many court requirements, conditions, restrictions, commitments.
  • Don’t burden families with expenses, so they don’t know which way to turn.
  • Hire and assign staff to help with the journey.

The study contains much more, namely 73 pages of disarming verbatims, topline results, recommendations from professionals and suggestions from the girls. But it will only help Minnesota become a locus of change for girls in  the justice system if people like you read it. Download a free copy of the 73 page report, or simply read the  executive summary, then let us know your thoughts.  To order hard copies, email Steve@Amicususa.org