Gender-specific programming in juvenile and adult correctional programs have been shown to result in reduced recidivism and higher effectiveness than mixed gender programs. Gender responsive programs have been developed as it has been found that many times girls travel a different path to problems than most of their male counterparts and have different needs.
Stephanie S. Covington, P.D., L.C.S.W. developed a training curriculum titled Voices: A Program of Self-Discovery and Empowerment (2nd Edition), which aims to explore gender differences between juvenile males and females and specifically addresses ways to provide trauma informed and trauma responsive services to help young women develop a positive sense of self, build healthy relationships, deal with substance abuse, physical and emotional wellness, sexuality and planning for a positive future.
Training Consultant Trammy Rothschild presented the one-day trauma informed training as part of Covington’s Voices curriculum currently used by Humboldt County Juvenile Services. The training was brought to Winnemucca by juvenile services as part of their training curriculum and offered for free for the public.
Gender-specific programs are those that intentionally allow research and knowledge on female and male socialization and development regarding risks, strengths and needs to determine the most appropriate treatment and services while creating an environment based on safety, respect and dignity and acknowledging that gender does make a difference in service and development needs.
For example, the training speaks to differences in moral reasoning between girls and boys. It is said that girls often make moral decisions based on the relationships involved and whether they care about someone or someone cares about them. Boys are said to more often make moral decisions based on rules and laws involved rather than emotions.
Rothschild said that females tend to externalize success and internalize failure and males tend to internalize success and externalize failure.
Along with gender-specific responses in treatment services, trauma specific services are also designed to specifically address violence and trauma and related symptoms, with a goal of facilitating healing and recovery. Core principles of trauma-informed care include safety (physical and emotional), trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment.
Trauma may include a number of different experiences such as catastrophic injuries/illnesses, rape or assault, muggings, domestic violence, burglary, automobile accidents, immigration, natural disasters, terrorism events, witnessing violence such as a parent harming another parent, loss of a loved one and severe bereavements (even of a pet), combat/war, torture, kidnapping and intergenerational (cultural) trauma.
The training points out that females and males experience different types of trauma and process it differently.
Females are said to be more likely to be abused by a family member, three to four times more likely than boys to be victims of sexual abuse and abuse with girls tends to start earlier and last longer, whereas boys typically experience trauma in one event. It’s also stated that 70-90% of system-involved girls have a history of victimization (emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse).
In male trauma statistics, 77% of boys are said to be exposed to violence, 88% experienced a stressful event in the past year, 76% witnessed violence, 21% were victims of physical assault, 8.5% were victims of physical abuse and 3.4 were victims of sexual assault. Minority males are reportedly at a greater risk for violence, incarceration, poverty and have lower rates of high school completion.
When serving youth who have been through trauma, Rothschild said it’s important for authority figures including parents, staff members in juvenile treatment programs and other adult influences to be on the same page regarding behavior intervention actions and assisting in positive behavior modification to ensure consistency.
Behavior interventions include verbal reminders, coaching, temporary privilege restrictions to overcome undesirable behavior in youth such as swearing, disrespectful body language and other negative behaviors.
Juvenile staff members also utilize client assistance plans which include a discussion with documented prompts following an incident exploring with the client/juvenile what led to a specific behavior, why a behavior occured, values and beliefs, alternatives, and cooperatively developing a plan to move forward in a positive manner. Juvenile service providers can also utilize temporary privilege and community restrictions to help curb repeated unsafe or undesirable behaviors.
Rothschild said that there are many different signs that a juvenile is in a trauma-related coping mode, including a neglect of reasonable hygiene practices. She said sometimes the best way to respond to a juvenile who is acting out of character is to just ask, “What’s going on? How can I support you right now?”
Discussions and interviews with juveniles to gain a sense of what the juvenile needs to feel safe and other motivational interviewing techniques also contribute to a client-centered model of healing. Motivational interviewing communication skills include asking open-ended questions, using affirmations, reflections and summarizations.
Open-ended questions include asking questions that generally cannot be answered with a yes or no and frames a question in a way that invites others to tell their story. Affirmations help juveniles and clients believe in themselves by recognizing their strengths and acknowledging behaviors that lead in the direction of positive change.
At the end of the training, Humboldt County Juvenile Services Director Pauline Salla said that one of her biggest takeaways from the training was that female juveniles are more effective in group settings and meetings if they are in an all-girl group, rather than a co-ed group.
Rothschild said that many times when boys and girls are in mixed groups or environments, actions are many times heavily weighted on gaining the attention or forming relationships with participants of the opposite sex, creating problems of drama and competitiveness between the other girls and taking the focus away from program participation and healing.