The Coalition of Advocates for Equal Access for Girls (Coalition) in support of state and county juvenile justice in Oregon developed two handbooks for the field: Gender-Responsive Standards and Assessment Tool (G-SAT) – Handbook and Trauma-Informed Practices for Working with Girls – Staff Handbook.

We spoke to Pam Patton at Oregon Coalition for Equal Access for Girls about their handbooks as a model of innovation and lessons for the field from this process. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Why This Project?

Trauma is the driving force behind the behavior that brings girls to the attention of the juvenile justice system. Trauma is pervasive, and it threads the fabric of their lives. It is the critical element shaping how girls experience life and will experience juvenile justice programs and systems. The juvenile justice system most often responds to girls’ behavior by looking at them through their offense. We believe if only a girl’s behavior and not her trauma is considered or addressed, juvenile justice will see her previous non-productive behaviors repeat and continue. It is essential systems integrate, in policy and practice, a trauma-informed and gender-responsive approach throughout a girl’s involvement with juvenile justice. The goal for this Project is to begin the process and provide a resource for the Oregon juvenile justice system to make the cultural shift necessary for the integration of looking at and working with girls through a gender and trauma lens.

Our project was to get a clear picture of who the girls are in Oregon’s juvenile departments and state system, how juvenile departments are intaking girls, providing services to girls and detaining girls and how best to integrate trauma-informed and gender-responsive approaches into the system.

The Coalition was established in 1993 when we sponsored and helped pass the bill in the Oregon Legislature that became the Equal Access law (ORS 417.270). As a result, Oregon is the only state in the nation that requires all state agencies providing services to children to ensure that girls have equal access to appropriate gender-specific services, treatment and facilities. The Coalition is an all-volunteer member-driven organization dedicated to supporting the adults who empower girls, to ensuring the voices, issues and needs of girls are heard and that the Equal Access law is implemented.

We have been working since we began at a state level to ensure programs in the Oregon Youth Authority (and other state agencies, Child Welfare, Mental Health etc.) are responsive to girls. Our goal with this juvenile justice project was to integrate a trauma-informed lens, as well as a gender-responsive lens into the work not only with the Oregon Youth Authority, but also the county juvenile departments.

Lessons for the Field

Including a Diverse Range of Stakeholders

We had a Project Steering Committee made up of 10 incredibly knowledgeable and strong, powerful women who worked at multiple levels with girls who were involved in the juvenile justice system, including a judge, the co-director of Trauma Informed Oregon, a parent (mother) of a young woman in Oregon Youth Authority, and representatives from juvenile departments, juvenile justice advocates, lawyers and representation from organizations serving Native-American, African American, Hispanic and LBGTQ young women. The group’s invaluable insight and guidance helped steer our Project every step of the way.

It is so important to have at the table different voices of people who are experts and passionate about the areas you’re working on. You need all of them there to make sure you’re going down the right path.

Determining Solutions with Stakeholders

At our first meeting it became clear that what we had thought would help our juvenile departments move towards being trauma-informed was not the most effective solution. We had anticipated creating an assessment process that included trauma-informed screenings. Project Committee member, Mandy Davis of Trauma Informed Oregon suggested this might not be the best way to meet our goal of integrating a trauma-informed approach in the juvenile justice system and that it really was a training and cultural shift that had to happen.

We switched from our initial Project goal to making the Handbooks the tool that we would use to help juvenile departments integrate both a trauma-informed approach and a gender-responsive approach. It refined our direction in a way that we were much more successful in reaching the goal of our Project: setting a foundation for our juvenile justice system to integrate both lenses into all levels of a girl’s involvement with the system.

Connecting with Systems

We printed 200 copies of the Handbooks and I met with Juvenile Department Director’s Association and gave copies of both Handbooks to them to distribute to all 36 juvenile departments in Oregon. I did a training at the Juvenile Department Director’s Association Annual Conference. We also gave copies to our Child Welfare departments and to all girl providers of residential treatment and treatment foster care programs in Oregon. And we shared copies nationally with the other National Girls Initiative Awardees.

What’s Next?

The Coalition does statewide annual trainings for staff who work directly with girls and we bring in national or state experts on trauma and gender-responsive approaches. We’re in the process this year of trying to work with the Oregon Youth Authority and the Department of Human Services to focus on transgender and non-conforming youth, especially girls, that are in the system, and how we can work with them using a gender and trauma lens.

How to Learn More

The Coalition has combined the two Handbooks into one Handbook: Gender-Responsive Standards and Assessment Tool (G-SAT) Handbook and the complementary Trauma-Informed Practices for Working with Girls – Staff Handbook.

 

To learn more about this work, contact Pam Patton at: pam@equalaccessforgirls.org