Are girls becoming more violent? Evidently not.
A new bulletin from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) on girls suggests that, even though their arrest rate for "simple assault" increased by 24 percent between 1996 and 2005 nationally, their actual behavior probably hasn't changed. In fact, mandatory arrest laws designed to protect victims of domestic violence are likely a contributing factor.
I highly recommend that you check out the bulletin -- it's a quick read, and neatly summarizes a great deal of research performed by the Girls Study Group, which was convened for this purpose by OJJDP.
Three things stood out for me, from the point of view of Reclaiming Futures:
- Take the individual into account. Risk factors for delinquency are basically the same for boys and girls, though some matter more for girls than they do for boys (such as early puberty, sexual abuse, and depression/anxiety). The authors have a caveat, however: "As with all delinquency prevention and intervention efforts, however, the focus should be on the individual youth and her specific needs and strengths." A good reminder that providing individualized care can be one of the best ways to reduce delinquency. (Easier said than done, I know.)
- Risk assessments are not all the same. The group looked at "143 risk assessment and treatment-focused instruments" and found that only 25 of them were equally effective with girls and boys. No details yet on what tools were reviewed: for that, we'll have to await the publication of the full bulletin, which will be titled, "Suitability of Assessment Instruments for Delinquent Girls."
- Community support is crucial if you want your program to survive. The OJJDP bulletin gets a bit confusing when it describes what The Girls Study Group did to assess how effective different girls' delinquency programs are, but what I do understand is sobering. The Group looked at 29 promising and model programs catalogued by Blueprints for Violence Prevention; but it also reviewed 62 girls' delinquency programs nationwide.
Of the latter group, only 18 had published evaluations, and no program had sufficient evidence to judge whether or not it was effective. However, there were four "promising" programs, of which exactly zero are still in operation.
Maintaining funding for a program is much easier if you build in community support for it from the start. We don't want to support programs that don't work, of course, but if you've got a program with good data and community members behind it, then it's got a better chance of being "recession-proof."
What about your community? Do you have specific programming for girls in the delinquency system? What about specifically for boys?
- Every year, many girls end up in the juvenile justice system for skipping school or for being runaways--not because they've committed a crime. Check out this guide from the American Bar Association on how to represent these "status offenders."
- This interesting post discusses the need to stop framing violence as the fault of an individual; instead, it looks at the need to assess society's role in violence prevention.
Updated: November 04 2008