The Paucity of Programs for Girls and the Impact of Recent Legislation
Investing in Girls: A 21st Century Strategy

The paucity of services targeting female juvenile offenders is deepening the negative impact of the often traumatic life circumstances described above. Two 1998 national surveys of promising and effective gender-specific programs, one conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) and another as part of the 1998 NCCD study, indicate that there are only a relatively small number of such programs nationwide. Moreover, these programs (with a few notable exceptions such as PACE, Jacksonville, FL; the Female Intervention Team, Baltimore, MD; and Reaffirming Young Sister's Excellence (RYSE), Oakland, CA) are characteristically small and lack the organizational capacity and funding to collect, manage, and analyze client-related data. Particularly scarce are intensive family-based programs (residential, school, and in-home) that provide girl-specific health, psychiatric, substance abuse, and academic services tailored to girls' needs. Also lacking are programs that build and preserve the teen mother-child bond by providing specialized, developmentally sequenced interventions. Program elements that seldom appear are services that effectively address girls' diverse racial and cultural backgrounds and girls' innate strengths and resiliencies. Programs that specifically address at-risk girls in late childhood and preadolescence (8-11 years old) are also rare.

Further, recent Federal welfare legislation may reduce access to essential public benefits for low-income teen mothers and their children. Recent adoption legislation may simultaneously reduce the amount of time incarcerated teen mothers whose children are in foster care have to demonstrate their stability to family court in order to reunite with their children. In 1996, the U.S. Congress enacted the Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act, known to the public as welfare reform. This Federal legislation effectively ends the entitlement of poor children to ongoing needs-based support by placing strict limits on the amount of time such children may receive benefits (Wald, 1998). In addition to requiring that parents (overwhelmingly single mothers) hold jobs, it also places special restrictions on teen parents. Parents under age 18 who do not live with an adult or stay in school are denied benefits (Quigley, 1998). Naturally, this places special burdens on abused teens who might feel compelled to leave home because of abuse and on those who have dropped out of school because of learning or emotional disabilities.

Particularly scarce are intensive family-based programs tailored to girls' needs.

As female juvenile offenders are highly likely to have experienced both of these problems, they appear to be especially vulnerable. Although establishing paternity can benefit children, there is also concern among legal professionals that States that make receipt of benefits contingent on young women's cooperation in establishing their children's paternity may force pregnant and parenting teens into unwanted marriages (Hoke, 1998).

In addition, the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act could further compound the difficulties faced by young female offenders who wish to regain care and custody of their children. Although the Act has the positive goal of protecting the safety and health of the child, it places tighter limits than those imposed by previous legislation on the time and services available to parents (including incarcerated mothers) attempting to demonstrate their stability to the family court (Larsen, in press). Within 1 year, parents, including adolescent mothers whose children are under the care of the State, must meet all court-imposed requirements or permanently lose custody of their children. When applied to incarcerated women and girls, this could mean that thousands more children will be permanently removed from their mothers and in need of adoptive homes in the 21st century. Unwittingly, this well-intentioned act could potentially lead to establishment of a new, highly vulnerable orphan class of children.