What are Female Responsive Services?

Though the term "female responsive" may be used to describe a philosophy for service provision in many different fields, in this case the term refers to philosophy and programs specifically related to the juvenile justice system and other youth services that are often grouped together under the descriptions of prevention or intervention. "Female responsive" will also be used interchangeably with "gender specific."

In the United States and Iowa, the juvenile justice system was formed and developed with boys in mind. Traditionally, the needs of the relatively small population of adolescent girls in the juvenile justice system went unmet as the system strove to provide adequate and appropriate services for adolescent boys. As a result, girls have largely been expected to fit into existing service resources that are not equipped to meet the specific needs of adolescent girls. As more females became involved with the juvenile justice system, scholars, service providers, policy-makers, youth advocates and juvenile justice system personnel began to recognize that the juvenile justice system and youth programs were not adequately serving adolescent girls.

In the early 1990s this awareness led to heightened advocacy by state and national organizations for programs designed to fill the gap. Programs were designed that took into account the specific emotional, physical and psychological needs of the population being served, in this case girls, based on research into the types of offenses committed, the socioeconomic background and experiences of girls involved with the juvenile justice system and female adolescent development. Emphasis was placed on designing programs free from gender bias that provided a physically and emotionally safe space for girls.

"Female responsive" does not only mean programs that serve girls. Rather, the term indicates a comprehensive program that recognizes the realities of sexism and abuse faced by girls and women in our society and takes into account how this reality influences the choices and behaviors of juvenile females. Successful female responsive programs will focus on developing girls' strengths to face these challenges.

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