Gender-Responsive Services

Section 1.9

Judicial, Legal, Law Enforcement, Justice, Social Service and School Professionals Should Understand the Developmental, Behavioral and Social Differences between Boys and Girls and How their Service Needs are Accordingly Different

Boys represent 83 percent of arrests for violent crimes, and, in general serve longer terms in detention than girls.2

Judicial, legal, law enforcement, justice, social service and school professionals working with youth alleged to have committed status offenses and their families should make gender-responsive choices regarding interventions, treatment and services before, during, and following court involvement.

Research shows that boys are more likely than girls to be arrested and prosecuted in juvenile delinquency court, and that girls are more likely to be arrested for status offenses.1  Boys represent 83% of arrests for violent crimes and, in general, serve longer terms in detention facilities than girls.  Girls make up 61% of all runaway cases, and spend twice as long in detention facilities for status offenses as boys.2  Boys and girls may be charged with status offenses for different reasons, and react differently to system involvement and related interventions because of physiological, sociological and developmental differences. 

While girls and boys in the juvenile justice system come from all different family types and socioeconomic backgrounds, girls are more likely to enter the delinquency system if they:

  • Are living in poverty;
  • Have been exposed to domestic violence and/or substance abuse;
  • Have a history of running away;
  • Have experienced sexual, physical and/or emotional abuse;
  • Feel disconnected from school or have experienced academic failure; or
  • Have mental health and substance abuse issues.3


Factors that may make boys more likely to enter the delinquency system include child maltreatment, negative peer influences, substance abuse, dropping out of school, and living in violent communities.4

Research has shown that there are specific protective factors that may make girls less likely to commit offenses, including support from a caring adult, succeeding and/or feeling connected to someone in school, and religiosity.5  School connectedness, family support, and positive social activities have been found to be protective factors for both boys and girls.6

Girls make up 61 percent of all runaway cases, and spend twice as long in detention facilities for status offenses as boys.

There are many ways agencies and courts who work with status offenders can be gender-responsive:

  • Professionals who select and administer assessment instruments, or rely on the results of these instruments, should ensure that these tools are evidence-based or empirically-supported and have been designed for and tested with girls and boys (or the specific gender of the client group).7  Even where there is a shortage of validated instruments for girls, practitioners should endeavor to continuously research the best possible options.  
  • Be aware that while evaluation research on programs for girls is lagging behind the research on effective programming for boys, programs that are gender-responsive for girls rely on a theoretical framework that dictates research-based principles for effective female programming.  Boys may also benefit from many of these program qualities. These include:
    • Being strength-based, trauma-informed and relational;
    • Ensuring clients’ physical, psychological and emotional safety;
    • Employing staff who are sensitive to trauma and understand girls’ socialization; and
    • Providing ongoing staff training and support.8
  • Ensure that elements of gender-responsive practice are present throughout, from first contact with the system through service and treatment provision.  To the extent gender-specific programming is offered, youth should participate according to their gender-identity rather than their biological gender, if they are not the same.
  • Strive to make programs culturally-competent and family-focused, and encourage youth to partner with staff in the development of their treatment plans.


Finally, professionals working with youth should keep in mind that trends or characteristics that may be generally true for boys or girls will not apply to all youth of that gender and that all young people should be treated as individuals.  For instance, when working with youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning, it is particularly important to make decisions on an individual basis, and to respect gender identity and expression. (See Section I, Standard 10 for a more detailed discussion of considerations relevant to LGBTQ youth.)


1 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (2008).  “Fact Sheet: Juvenile Delinquency” from “What Challenges Are Boys Facing, and What Opportunities Exist To Address Those Challenges?” Available at:  http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/08/boys/FactSheets/jd/report.pdf.

2 Coalition for Juvenile Justice. (nd) Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders (DSO) Facts and Resources.Available at: http://www.juvjustice.org/sites/default/files/ckfinder/files/dso%20fact%20sheet.pdf.

3 Zahn, M, et al. (2010) “Causes and Correlates of Girls’ Delinquency.” Girls Study Group. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.  Available at: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/226358.pdf.

4 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (2008).  “Fact Sheet: Juvenile Delinquency” from “What Challenges Are Boys Facing, and What Opportunities Exist To Address Those Challenges?” Available at:  http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/08/boys/FactSheets/jd/report.pdf.

5 Hawkins S.R., et al. (2009) “Resilient Girls—Factors That Protect Against Delinquency.”Girls Study Group. Available at: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/220124.pdf. (for this study “delinquent behavior” was defined to include status offenses (truancy and unruliness), gang membership, selling drugs, serious property offenses and assault).

6 Id.

7 See Brumbaugh S., et al. (2010) “Suitability of Assessment Instruments for Delinquent Girls.” Girls Study Group.  Available at: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/226531.pdf.

8 Adapted from Selvaggi, Kimberly.  “Ideas for Building a Female Responsive System for Girls” (unpublished; on file with Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ))

 

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