August 2017 Newsletter

SFY Summer Interns Reflect on Summer Projects

Dear Friends:

Every summer, college and law students ask SFY for internships.

This year, we put four college interns to work on topics ranging from developing best practices for policing girls and LGBTQ youth to the impacts of trauma on youth. Our fifth intern, a second year law student at Northeastern University Law School, reviewed current cases and scholarship on Miranda warnings and the use of Tasers on youth. We hope you’ll enjoy reading their reflections here.

Special thanks to the Forest Foundation for funding two of the internships.

Lisa Thurau
Executive Director



The Summer of the Girl

Zoe Rankin & Leigh Yartz

During our second internship with Strategies for Youth we delved into research on the drastic increase in the number of girls arrested and incarcerated. Our work focused on SFY’s The Summer of the Girl. We worked on creating new fact sheets for law enforcement trainings and developing new content for the existing training curriculum on the topic of girls, both of which are trauma-informed and supported by academic research.

The fact sheets on girls’ interactions with police and the juvenile justice system were developed for the SFY Policing the Teen Brain. Part of the reason for this is the increase in the number of girls arrested and incarcerated, the racial disparity in arrests, and the recently named “sex abuse to prison” pipeline. Through this research, I (Leigh) learned that often the crimes that girls, and disproportionately girls of color, are arrested and incarcerated for result from their victimization. The “crimes” that girls are charged with most frequently are running away, substance abuse, and truancy—all symptoms of abuse and exposure to trauma. The purpose of the fact sheets is to put girls’ behavior into context, as it is likely that many girls officers encounter are acting out in response to a history of sexual/physical/psychological abuse and trauma.

I learned that it is imperative for officers to understand this dynamic because locking girls up is not a viable solution: the juvenile justice system is unequipped to address the physical and mental health needs of girls who have experienced trauma. Report after report demonstrates that once in the juvenile justice system, there are no-gender specific medical screenings and the conditions of confinement for girls are disturbingly inhumane. With a climbing suicide rate among adolescent girls, it is crucial that officers better understand the context of girls’ behavior and respond by providing services to address their trauma rather than arresting and putting them in a broken, non-rehabilitative system that best succeeds in re-traumatizing girls. It is clear that training and informing officers is a critical step to addressing this growing crisis that young girls are facing.

The second set of fact sheets focused on issues specific to LGBTQ youth. Through this research, I (Zoe) found that LGBTQ youth have an often-challenging path to a healthy and safe life. A study conducted by the Williams Institute found that 46% of homeless youth ran away due to family rejection, 43% were kicked out by their parents and 32% faced violence and abuse at home. Because many LGBTQ youth are not welcome in their homes, they are often forced to live on the streets. The Williams Institute estimated that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Surviving on the streets and being homeless can lead youth to engage in survival crimes which include, engaging in in shoplifting, breaking and entering for shelter, trading sex, selling drugs, or engaging in other illegal activities to survive. This is where law enforcement officers most typically encounter LGBTQ youth.

I learned about the lack of resources for LGBTQ youth in  schools, the juvenile justice system and shelters for homeless youth. Considering the number of homeless youth that identify as LGBTQ, it dismayed me to learn how many shelters are struggling to stay open in cities like New York City and Washington D.C. And shelters are not a perfect solution: many LGBTQ youth feel unsafe in shelters due to their sexuality or gender identity. They face stigma, discrimination and have a heightened risk of abuse and violence. Through education and understanding, my hope is that officers will be able to better serve their communities and this population.

The second part of our work at SFY was developing research on girls to develop a new version of the law enforcement training curriculum, Policing the Teen Brains of Girls. This new training aim to better inform and equip law enforcement officers with the knowledge and information to effectively police girls who have a history of trauma. This means understanding the prevalence of trauma among girls, as well as how to recognize signs of traumatized behaviors and respond to them appropriately.

This research has provided me insight into the lack of support for girls in our legal and education system. Too often young girls and LGBTQ youth are being arrested and incarcerated for their reactions to abuse and trauma, and for committing survival crimes, such as stealing food and clothing, breaking and entering into places to hide from abusers; crimes they commit to stay alive and safe.

We believe that non-violent behavior must not be criminalized if law enforcement is to begin helping these populations. Through training, empowerment, and a trauma-informed approach to these issues we can begin lowering the growing suicide rate among girls and LBGTQ youth, decreasing the homeless population, and alleviating school pushout that is experienced primarily experienced by youth of color. Education on issues unique to girls and LGBTQ youth is essential to begin improving and changing many of the unfortunate disparities that these populations face.



Focusing on Girls & Trauma

Frances Snellings & Hannah Stenberg

As Forest Foundation interns, we enjoyed collaborating on various projects this summer. Our work focused on trauma and how girls are victimized and victimize others. The goal of our research was to develop a two new versions of SFY’s Juvenile Justice Jeopardy—one to help youth understand trauma and one for girls—as well as a fact sheet on trauma for the Policing the Teen Brain trainings.

We spent the beginning of our internship researching trauma to create a fact sheet summarizing the causes, symptoms, and best practices for officers to respond to trauma in youth. Law enforcement disproportionately come into contact with youth who are affected by trauma and PTSD. Our fact sheet identifies sources of trauma, also known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), including emotional abuse, physical or emotional neglect, exposure to domestic violence, and incarceration of a household member. The fact sheet gives officers tactics to recognize traumatized youth and their behavior, as well as how to reduce traumatizing youth by avoiding triggers like loud noises, using a consistent, neutral tone of voice, de-escalation techniques like repeating instructions to youth 3 times to allow the youth to process, and narrative prediction of what will happen next. The volume of trauma research is vast so we focused on distilling the information on what officers most need to know. Eventually, we turned a 15 page document into a 4 and then 2 page fact sheet.

We read Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood. The authors explore the harmful phenomenon of adults thinking black girls are less innocent, less in need of protection and nurturing, and are perceived to be older than similarly aged white girls. This process of “adultification” leads to stiffer punishments in school and manifests into a spike in arrests during adolescence. These arrests are typically for status offenses—truancy, missing curfew, speaking out in school, and girl-on-girl fights.

After reading extensively on this topic, we conducted focus groups with girls at Madison Park Development Corp in Roxbury and one at Girls Inc. of Lynn. In order to create an open and comfortable environment for our focus group participants, we felt it was important to start a dialogue with the girls about our own gender and racial identities, and our collective similarities and differences.

These focus groups solidified our previous contention that girls face unique pressures, problems, and cycles of victimization that often catapult them into the juvenile justice system. From our focus groups, we discovered that as social media usage swells, the issues facing girls grow. Specifically, we found that adolescent girls rarely understand their “right to” (or lack thereof) privacy when they use Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram. We also found that social media triggers and agitates already tumultuous relationships—both romantic and platonic, threatening boundaries and trust. Using this aggregate data, and the issues girls described when speaking to us in the focus groups, we created a Juvenile Justice Jeopardy game specific for “The Girl.” This version of the game aims to educate girls on the consequences of their actions—both in person and online—and to generate a conversation around safety, victimizing and being a victim, social media and relationships, trust and police.

We also hope the game sparks dialogue around the negative cycles of bullying, relationship and physical aggression, and competition girls experience , that often germinate over a boy, and wreck any solidarity among them. The game seeks to emphasize the benefits of support and solidarity during times of stress and conflict and aims to have girls ask each other, “Why do we fight instead of support each other?”

We feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to engage in such  diverse reading, researching, and writing which we could transform into useful learning materials for law enforcement and youth alike. We look forward to seeing our work in action this coming Fall when SFY will pilot the girls and trauma games in Boston at Madison Park Development Corporation, and use the new trauma fact sheets with officers.

Thank you to SFY and The Forest Foundation for giving us this amazing opportunity to delve into this work—we are very grateful!




Tasers on Youth

Mary Mesele

After completing my first year of law school, I hoped to find an internship that focused on addressing and reforming areas of juvenile law as well as hone my research and writing skills. Interning at Strategies for Youth allowed me to explore police misconduct issues involving youth. I undertook a review of recent cases involving the use of unreasonable and excessive force as well as the use of conducted electronic weapons (CEWs) also known as tasers, on youth.

Additionally, I reviewed and summarized articles on police/youth interactions and policing for SFY’s annotated bibliography page. I especially enjoyed this portion of the internship because I learned so much.  In reviewing the numerous cases and articles, I found that gaps in research on how youth are treated during police interrogations.

What struck me most was research demonstrating how few youth comprehend the role of a defense attorney. These studies indicated that youth do not have a clear understanding of what their defense attorney is meant to do for them. This is especially troubling considering it is more likely that juveniles won’t utilize their right to counsel if they don’t fully grasp how to work with their attorney.

In addition, I discovered the importance of courts acknowledging the developmental and psychological differences between youth and adults. Acknowledging these differences should not only create modifications in the way juveniles are interrogated but also amend mens rea standards courts currently use. Without courts setting precedent, our legal system treat youth in the same manner as adults with fully developed cognitive abilities.  Using a developmentally-appropriate approach provides youth the protection they deserve and requires police officers and other system stakeholders to match their methods to developmental level of the youth they are working with.

Interning at Strategies of Youth made me aware of how partnering with police departments is crucial for fostering positive and constructive improvements to decrease the institutionalized causes of mistreatment of youth. I came to understand that such a partnership encourages police to work with juveniles within the communities they patrol while simultaneously improving relations between the youth and law enforcement.