The task force's assessment of the information gathered on girls in detention and secure confinement was striking. A large percentage of the girls had been physically or sexually abused. Ninety-five percent came from single-family homes, 14 percent were pregnant at the time of detention, 32 percent had current or past sexually transmitted diseases, and 32 percent had (or previously had) chronic health problems. The girls' offenses, however, were not as surprising. The number one offense was simple assault (Department of Juvenile Services, 1992). The assessment revealed that the typical Baltimore City female offender wasand continues to bea 16-year-old African American from a single-parent family. Although staff did not understand all the problems associated with this population, they were most concerned with and aware of health problems.
Girls have an opportunity to see relationships between men and women that are neither sexual nor abusive.
The Female Offender's Needs
In early 1993, the unit began developing plans to meet these needs. The team of 10 case managers by then had supervised more than 400 girls from Baltimore. Staff had plenty of information and were beginning to understand and document the major issues facing the girls. Research suggested that effective programs for girls must meet several criteria in order to provide effective services. The Valentine Foundation, a charitable foundation that makes grants available to qualifying tax-exempt organizations, places emphasis on several factors to be considered in developing programs and services for girls (Valentine Foundation and Women's Way, 1990), advising programs to do the following:
Ask girls who they are, what their lives are like, and what they need.
Allow girls to speak up and actively participate in the services they receive.
Assist girls with their family relationships and help them deal with family issues.
Maintain a diverse staff who reflect the girls served.
Weave a multicultural perspective through programming.
Teach girls coping strategies to overcome domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, and substance abuse.
Understand that relationships are central to girls' lives. Assist girls in maintaining important connections without sacrificing themselves to their relationships.
Connect girls with at least one capable and nonexploitive adult for an ongoing supportive relationship.
Promote academic achievement and economic self-sufficiency for girls.
Assist girls in becoming grounded in some form of spirituality.
Allow staff more time and opportunity for building trusting relationships with girls.
Allow girls the safety and comfort of same-gender environments.
Provide girls with mentors who reflect girls' lives and who model survival, growth, and change.
Assist girls with childcare, transportation, and safe housing issues.