Understanding gender and family conflict

Strengthening connections and relationships is a hallmark of good youth justice practice and can prevent contact with law enforcement or the justice system.[]See for example Sandra Villalobos Agudelo, The Impact of Family Visitation on Incarcerated Youth’s Behavior and School Performance (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2013), https://perma.cc/2V32-D5NB. However, for girls and LGB/TGNC children, certain dynamics may be present in family relationships that can put them at risk of arrest when systems are not in place to appropriately respond.

Many girls who enter the justice system have experienced family conflict or challenges at home.[]See Francine T. Sherman and Annie Balck, Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reforms for Girls (Portland, OR: National Crittenton Foundation, 2015), 17, http://www.nationalcrittenton.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Gender_Injustice_Report.pdf.[/foonote]These conflicts are often shaped by the fact that across cultures girls tend to face more conservative expectations about how girls should behave and stricter rules. For example, expectations of dress are applied to girls differently than boys, as well as to LGB/TGNC children whose gender expression may not conform to gender norms.[] For a discussion of gender and dress codes see Li Zhou, “The Sexism of School Dress Codes,” Atlantic, October 20, 2015, https://perma.cc/8SCG-QTGD. Also see Meda Chesney-Lind, “Judicial Paternalism and the Female Status Offender: Training Women to Know Their Place,” Crime & Delinquency 23, no. 2 (1977), 122-123, 122; and Meda Chesney-Lind, “Judicial Enforcement of the Female Sex Role: The Family Court and the Female Delinquent,” Issues in Criminology 8, no. 2 (1973), 51-69, 54.  Gendered expectations about romantic and sexual relationships can lead to conflict in the home and runaway or “ungovernable” behavior.[]See Sherman and Balck, Gender Injustice (2015), at 27. For gendered expectations about relationships for Latinas, see Vera López and Meda Chesney-Lind, “Latina Girls Speak Out: Stereotypes, Gender and Relationship Dynamics,” Latino Studies 12, no. 4 (2014), 527-49.  Separately, gendered expectations of girls to be caregivers can force them to care for younger siblings or older relatives, affecting their ability to consistently attend school.[]See for example National Women’s Law Center, Listening to Latinas: Barriers to High School Graduation (Washington, DC: National Women’s Law Center, 2009), 25-26 (“research suggests that many Latinas—more than their male peers—are expected to act as caretakers for younger siblings or elderly relatives”), https://perma.cc/H2KR-82M3; and Beth M. Miller, Critical Hours: Afterschool Programs and Educational Success (Quincy, MA: Nellie Mae Education Foundation, 2003), 30-31, https://perma.cc/FG7M-BECN.

For LGB/TGNC children, adolescence may be when they first realize that their identity departs from family expectations (though this can also happen sooner for some).[]See Caitlin Ryan, Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Children (San Francisco: Family Acceptance Project, Marian Wright Edelman Institute, San Francisco State University, 2009), 1, https://perma.cc/C55M-KVZK.  In some instances, LGB/TGNC children are rejected or even expelled from their family homes or from foster care settings, where they are disproportionately placed.[]For disparities in placement, see Bianca D.M. Wilson, Khush Cooper, Angeliki Kastanis, and Sheila Nezhad, Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Foster Care: Assessing Disproportionality and Disparities in Los Angeles (Los Angeles: The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, 2014), 6 (in study of children in Los Angeles foster care system, finding that LGB/TGNC children had a higher average number of foster care placements and were more likely to be placed in group homes than their heterosexual and gender conforming peers), https://perma.cc/LLU8-WM9X; and Angela Irvine and Aisha Canfield, “The Overrepresentation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Questioning, Gender Nonconforming, and Transgender Youth Within the Child Welfare to Juvenile Justice Crossover Population,” Journal on Gender, Social Policy, & the Law 24, no. 2 (2016), 244-47 (in national study of children in juvenile detention facilities, finding that LGB/TGNC children were three times more likely to be removed from their homes and seven times more likely to be placed in group or foster homes than their heterosexual peers), https://perma.cc/GM45-LSYN.  Some families seek out conversion therapy—a now discredited method to “correct” a child’s sexuality or gender.[]This practice is opposed by all major medical and psychological professional associations and expressly banned for minors by at least nine U.S. states and the District of Columbia. See Movement Advancement Project, “Conversion Therapy Laws Map,” https://perma.cc/3QW7-EWD7.  Not surprisingly, family rejection is a precursor to many status offenses, especially running away. For example, one study of LGB/TGNC children in California found that 42 percent of those in foster care or other out-of-home placements reported family rejection as the reason they were not at home, and many LGB/TGNC children report physical abuse prior to running away or entering foster care.[]Caitlin Ryan and Raphael Diaz, “Family Responses as a Source of Risk & Resiliency for LGBT Youth” (paper presented at the Child Welfare League of American Preconference Institute, Washington, DC, February 2005).  Pregnant adolescent girls face similar circumstances: they are overrepresented among runaway and homeless children, in part because of family rejection related to their pregnancies or parenting status.[]See Bob Reeg, Christine Grisham, and Annie Shepard, Families on the Edge: Homeless Young Parents and Their Welfare Experiences—A Survey of Homeless Youth and Service Providers (Washington, DC: Center for Law and Social Policy and National Network for Youth, 2002), 4, https://perma.cc/ZD4A-25BW; and National Network for Youth, The Intersection of Youth Homelessness and Pregnancy and Parenting (Seattle, WA: National Network for Youth, 2010), 2, https://perma.cc/U88H-ADEQ.

Understanding the gender dynamics that shape conflicts between girls or LGB/TGNC children and their families is thus essential to developing strategies to support families in repairing their relationships. This work is critical, as family relationships are one of the greatest protective factors for young people over the long term.[] Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Protective Factors Against Delinquency (Washington, DC: OJJDP, 2015), 4-6. https://perma.cc/QKE7-T7MV.