I work in an adolescent girl's program that has always been proud of its approach and interventions with adolescent girls, an approach which is characterized by the belief that adolescent girls are not merely "difficult" but are ever changing in their struggle to make meaning, to embrace, and fight their way through the difficult. Acts of assertiveness manifested by adolescent girls are, all too frequently, labeled as "being difficult" or "inappropriate acting out."
However, these acts are often legitimate sources of resiliency and strivings for an equivalent voice in how they would like to see their day put together and run. Some are prone to misinterpret this insight and approach as being too permissive, lenient, or allowing girls to be "out of control" or paradoxically "in control."
We consciously resist the dominant scripts that, all too frequently, unintentionally, or otherwise, suppress these "other voices." For us the challenge is to embrace the "difficult" in search of a new discourse as to how to best work with young women faced with diminished life chances and difficult choices.
It has been said "girls need to see their lives as a metaphor for the roles and experiences of women in the culture" (Pipher 1994). In addition, adolescent research continues to confirm that young women's developmental path to placement are often different in scope and motivation from those of their male counterparts. Therefore, service providers must take these differences into account when designing specific components for treatment programs.
For those of us working in a female adolescent setting and/or having had the opportunity of working in the opposite or mixed gender setting: How do your observations and experiences better serve you to intervene and support adolescent girls? How does your agency view and address these concerns?
I found your comments very helpful. The focus of my PhD research which is still in its formative stages is around the debate about whether young people when in crisis are 'beyond control or choosing to be unmanageable so your perspective on 'voice' is important to me, could you let know the full reference for Pipher (1994). Whether 'beyond control or choosing to be unmanageable' is an important debate, but it tends to befought out exclusively on a 'technicist' level i.e. the young person's cognitive capability and control, whereas, I think it needs to embrace this perspective plus the 'socio-political perspective of 'voice' and opportunity to express that voice in ways are not self-damaging / self-destructive.
You say, and you say well, that "For us the challenge is to embrace the "difficult" in search of a new discourse as to how to best work with young women faced with diminished life chances and difficult choices" as I reflect on my early days (1975) in residential care, which was in a facility for young women, it was about control and suppression and not at all aboutestablishing a new discourse. Thankfully, the sort of suppression and control I saw there has gone, but I'm not sure that the level of work and understanding has yet raised to a shared perspective of 'embracing the difficult'. You've made me think and I appreciate that.
Some features on the CYC-NET web site on work with girls:
Teen girls get second chance
An Overview of Research on Girls and Violence
Working with Adolescent Girls in a Residential Treatment Centre
Thinking about Mary
I had hoped for a much larger response to my discussion question re Working with Girls. This is, most assuredly, a somewhat dormant, but increasingly pressing challenge and problematic for our field. Thanks ever so much to those that have, to date, responded. And thanks to CYC-Net for posting the features on working with girls.
Someone once told me that we could fill a huge football stadium 100 times over with child and youth care workers who only want to work with boys; and a small condo with those who only want to work with girls. Unfortunately, I feel as though the limited response was in fact the response.
As a Program Director and staunch advocate for the field and profession of child and youth care, I feel as though the care for, of and with young women is generally appalling throughout the mental health and juvenile justice systems. This is a huge issue which we must address.
This is just to "take the temperature" of how others are thinking and working with girls in care and treatment ... Our experience is a far greater proportion of girls coming into the system and more involved in juvenile court. In response we find ourselves moving from a "mostly boys" background, and as we are redistributing physical and staff resources, we are interested in hearing more about others' views on program issues with girls today.
I am sure there are many present time experiences to read about and to hear from, but how about taking a look at the The adolescent girl in conflict by Gisela Konopka. It is old but in it girls placed in institutions give voice to their view of life.
Hans G. Eriksson
My name is Amy and I'm a child and youth worker in Toronto, at an all girls residential treatment centre. The clients coming in are much more difficult and come from a much more 'complicated' background than in previous years.
I actually agree fully with Amy. I do some work at an all girls facility including a all boys facility close by. The girls that are being placed into care are coming from very troubled and disturbed backgrounds. It has placed stress on the services being rendered and the Care staff is finding it very challenging. I prefer working with the boys (typical male comment). The girls have many issues and this is brought to the fore through rather worrisome activities. Each issue is being handled based on its merits and many external resources is being used to deal with the issues as well.
Fred Anderson sent a longer-than-usual piece which was
Commentary in our March 2002 issue of CYC-ONLINE.
It is reproduced in full here:
So many of my friends and co-workers expressed concern and bafflement. I had, after all, escaped. I was the one cuckoo who flew over the nest. I was the parolee banging on the jailhouse door in search of refuge from a now unfamiliar and threatening world. Better by far, I was the death row inmate blessed with a last minute stay of execution! My behaviour was, alas; proof enough of their long held suspicions that I was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Had it not always been rumoured that it took me 1/2 hours to watch 60 Minutes. What of the occasion for these public ruminations on the status of my mental health? I had decided after much reflection, to leave the world of the "group home" and return to the residential treatment services division (Dorval Campus – Oasis).
The usual suspects
So many of my co-workers were consistent in their resolve to never practice in an all girls' setting. They are seemingly unshakeable in their long held view that girls are so much more difficult than boys. Girls were so sneaky, ungrateful, nasty and vindictive. The world of girls in out-of-home care, according to them, is best viewed through the prism of a preoccupation with cosmetics, phone times and boys. These were not observations considered to be potential linkages to differential treatment considerations but rather the notion of "being difficult" as a delimit to engagement and self-actualisation. These views were not, as some might suspect, confined to male co-workers. I had previously worked with girls on the Dorval Campus. So I knew that it could be an extremely thrilling, and challenging experience. I knew in what ways I had changed during this period in my life. I knew in what ways that my personal and professional lives had connected, so that I was able to chart real learning, satisfaction, and growth. I knew that I was not going back to the same place. Alice Walker, author of, The Colour Purple has a new book entitled The Same River Twice: Honouring the Difficult, in which she observes: What I discovered in any event was interesting. An old idea: you really cannot step into the same river twice. Each time it is different, and so are you.
Clients and citizens
Adolescent girls are not merely difficult but are ever changing in their struggle to make meaning, to embrace, and fight their way through the difficult. Acts of assertiveness manifested by adolescent girls are, all too frequently, labelled as "being difficult" or "inappropriate acting out". However, these acts are often legitimate sources of resiliency and strivings for an equivalent voice in how they would like to see their world put together and run. The challenge is to embrace the "difficult" in search of a new discourse as to how we work with young women faced with diminished life chances and difficult choices. Such a vision must start from the premise of supporting interventions which enable adolescent girls to identify themselves as knowing actors; defining their reality, shaping their new identity, naming their history, and transforming their lives for themselves.
My return to the world of adolescent girls' services is based on the recognition that groundings and practice must concentrate on promoting resiliency and self-esteem in adolescent girls. A substantial body of research and practice wisdom exists to support this argument. This approach maintains that these clients' ongoing drive towards personal growth and competence requires us to focus on their assets and build environments that support the growth process. Resiliency research has demonstrated the significance of positive relationships and perceptions of opportunity in the lives of young people considered to be at risk. There is a body of complementary research which demonstrates that group work intervention can be a valuable dimension to more traditional casework service. Additionally, adolescents have been the most frequent age group targeted for group work since they are developmentally predisposed to more open communication with peers rather than adults. It is through talking to one another and doing things together that people get connected and this connectedness leads to shared meaning. So the goals of grounding and promoting resiliency and self-esteem in adolescent girls is best accomplished by creating a structured and safe space wherein girls are encouraged to:
Connect with each other
Hold on to their voices
Respect themselves and others
Stay true to themselves and value their perceptions
Broaden their definitions of beauty and womanhood beyond media images
Giving voice to feelings
When girls voice their ideas and opinions in a safe environment, it strengthens their confidence and encourages them to express themselves more fully. By examining cultural expectations in a safe and supportive setting, girls gain greater awareness of their options and strengthen their ability to make choices that are consistent with their values, interests and talents.
A call to action
I invite other interested practitioners to develop structured support groups designed to promote resiliency and self-esteem in adolescent girls, help girls maintain authentic connection with peers and adults in the care setting, and the community, counter trends towards self-doubt, and allow for genuine self-expression through verbal sharing and creative activity. Talking, listening and self-expression through creative focused activities such as role playing, drama, journals, poetry, drawing, collage, and so on. Engaging and grounding in themes which are related to girls' lives, such as being a girl, trusting themselves, friendship, body image, goals, competition, and decision-making.
I wrote in with this query about a month ago, and
received three replies (and one inspiring one in March CYC-ONLINE). But the
replies didn't get to my query and I would like to repeat it.
Maybe Peter Rosenblatt was right when he suggested that
"the limited response was in fact the response"! – Eds.