An essential part of the reform process is to establish how well your major institutional partners—education, child welfare, health care, and victim services systems—are responding to girls and LGB/TGNC children at risk of court involvement. Many girls end up in the juvenile justice system for a status offense because stakeholders in other systems are either missing preventive opportunities by not identifying girls at risk before they enter court, or are referring girls to court when they don’t know what else to do with girls who seem “challenging” or for whom they lack the resources to support. It’s important to include these systems as a key component of your assessment in order to develop partnerships and cross-systems strategies with the goal of keeping girls out of court. 

School systems

Truancy is the status offense that leads the majority of children into court—regardless of gender—and therefore schools are inextricably involved in reforming status offense systems. Truancy may be driven by family dynamics or traumatic experiences outside of school, as well as by typical adolescent misconduct, but is also strongly linked to school-climate issues and school policies that disparately impact girls and LGB/TGNC children, especially those of color.[]Joseph G. Kosciw, Emily A. Greytak, Noreen M. Giga, et al., The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools (New York: GLSEN, 2016), 45 (LGB/TGNC children are more likely to be absent when school climate is hostile),; and Catherine Hill and Holly Kearl, Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School (Washington, DC: AAUW, 2011), 3,

Gender has far-reaching implications for girls’ experiences of school climate and school discipline. One study found that 56 percent of school-age girls had experienced sexual harassment in school, and research with LGB/TGNC children has found a similar prevalence.[]For sexual harassment of girls, see Hill and Kearl, Crossing the Line (2011), at 11 & figure 1. For sexual harassment of LGB/TGNC children, see Kosciw, Greytak, Giga, et al., The 2015 National School Climate Survey (2016), at 24, 46-47 (more than 59 percent of LGB/TGNC students reported experiencing sexual harassment at school); Khadija Hudson and Brittany Brathwaite, The Schools Girls Deserve: Youth-Driven Solutions for Creating Safe, Holistic, and Affirming New York City Public Schools (New York: Girls for Gender Equity, 2017), 7,; and Bright Research Group, Valuing Girls’ Voices: Lived Experiences of Girls of Color in Oakland Unified School District (Oakland, CA: Alliance for Girls, 2016), In addition to intolerant school climates, school conduct policies—or the biased enforcement of them—can lead girls and LGB/TGNC children to disengage from school either by withdrawing at school, skipping school, or dropping out of school.[]For sexual harassment of girls in school, see Hill and Kearl, Crossing the Line (2011), at 22-25. For the experiences of LGB/TGNC children in school, see Kosciw, Greytak, Giga, et al., The 2015 National School Climate Survey (2016).

How sexuality influences girls’ experiences with the justice system

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For example, subjective school policies governing conduct—such as dress codes or policies related to pregnant or parenting students—can promote gender bias, which may lead directly to court referrals for status offense behaviors or cause children to disengage from school. The National Women’s Law Center, for example, suggests that schools examine whether their policies target hairstyles or clothing common to certain racial, ethnic, or religious groups, which may disparately affect girls of color.[]National Women’s Law Center, Let Her Learn: A Toolkit to Stop School Push Out for Girls of Color (Washington, DC: National Women’s Law Center, 2016), In 2016, the Education Law Center worked with the school district of Philadelphia to revise its dress code policy so that it no longer contains subjective language about clothing.[]Education Law Center, “ELC Statement in Response to Philadelphia’s Suspension and Dress Code Policy Changes,” August 22, 2016, Additionally, girls who are parenting their own children may frequently miss school to attend to these responsibilities, or face an “environment of discouragement” that pushes them out of school.[]See Kelli Garcia and Neena Chaudhry, Let Her Learn: Stopping School Push Out for Girls Who Are Pregnant or Parenting (Washington, DC: National Women’s Law Center, 2017), 4,

Therefore, in addition to reviewing attendance and truancy protocols—in order to ensure fair treatment of girls in school discipline—the process of reforming a status offense system should explore whether any school policies discourage girls and LGB/TGNC children from coming to school. Significant among the areas to explore is compliance with Title IX, the federal law that prohibits gender discrimination in public education; the Individuals with Disabilities Act, which requires accommodations for students with disabilities; and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, national origin, or language.[]The U.S. Department of Education produces guidelines to help schools comply, including guidance specific to LGB/TGNC children. Improved compliance with Title IX can help schools address issues such as sexual harassment and assault in schools, or discrimination against children who are pregnant and parenting, that contribute to students disengaging from school, becoming truant, or engaging in other behavior that results in referrals to court. See U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, “Sex-based Harassment,”; and U.S. Department of Education, “Resources for LGBTQ Students,”

    • In Alameda County, California, the Alliance for Girls completed a participatory action research study with girls in the Oakland Unified School District about their experiences at school. In Valuing Girls’ Voices, a report of the project’s findings, girls of color reported being called “bitches,” “sluts,” or “hos,” and described a tradition at their schools that boys branded “Slap-Ass Fridays,” where boys touched girls’ buttocks every Friday—behavior that was reported but not appropriately addressed by faculty and staff. Based on what the girls in Oakland reported in the participatory work, Alliance for Girls created a toolkit, Meeting the Needs of Girls: Girls of Color Share How to Improve Equity in Oakland Schoolsfor frontline educators and school staff.[]Alliance for Girls, Meeting the Needs of Girls: Girls of Color Share How to Improve Equity in Oakland Schools (Oakland, CA: Alliance for Girls, 2017),
    • The New York-based Girls for Gender Equity engages the leadership of girls and LGB/TGNC children of color to improve public schools, including using participatory action research methods to create The Schools Girls Deserve, a report that describes the girls’ and LGB/TGNC children’s vision for the schools they would like to attend.[]Khadija Hudson and Brittany Brathwaite, The Schools Girls Deserve: Youth-Driven Solutions for Creating Safe, Holistic, and Affirming New York City Public Schools, (New York: Girls for Gender Equity, 2017), The organization has also created sexual harassment trainings that include modules on gender stereotypes, Title IX, and “Know Your Rights” for parents and students.[]Girls for Gender Equity, “Training,”
    • Student-led gay-straight alliances, or GSAs, have been shown to improve the school climate for LGB/TGNC children.[]See GLSEN, Gay-Straight Alliances: Creating Safer Schools for LGBT Students and their Allies, (New York: GLSEN, 2007),; and Hillary Burdge, Katarina Sinclair, Carolyn Laub, and Stephen T. Russell, Safe Schools Research Brief 14—Lessons That Matter: LGBTQ Inclusivity and School Safety (San Francisco: GSANetwork, 2012),  Such alliances support LGB/TGNC students and work to reduce prejudice and harassment in school.[]Joseph G. Kosciw, Emily A. Greytak, Noreen M. Giga, et al., The 2015 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth in Our Nation’s Schools (New York: GLSEN, 2016), xix,  LGB/TGNC students report feeling safer in schools that have these resources, as well as feeling less depressed, having fewer suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and engaging in less substance use.[]Russell B. Toomey, Caitlin Ryan, Rafael M. Diaz, and Stephen T. Russell, “High School Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being: An Examination of GSA Presence, Participation, and Perceived Effectiveness,” Applied Developmental Science 15, no. 4 (2011), 175-85.  The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) has also developed the Safe Space Kit: A Guide to Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students in Your School.[]GLSEN, Safe Space Kit: A Guide to Supporting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students in Your School (New York: GLSEN, 2016),
    • The 2016 book "Inequality in School Discipline: Research and Practice to Reduce Disparities" also offers a structured response grid focused on reducing racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline by creating objective response protocols based on specific behavior.[]Russell J. Skiba, Kavitha Mediratta, and M. Karega Rausch (eds.), Inequality in School Discipline: Research and Practice to Reduce Disparities (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). It helps educators ensure that disciplinary decisions about students’ behavior are made based on objective criteria rather than implicit biases.
    • The National Women’s Law Center’s Let Her Learn offers resources for families, educators, policymakers, and students to create more equitable schools for girls of color, including a resource called Girls in Foster Care, which provides recommendations to make sure that girls in the child welfare system receive additional support to promote their educational success.[]Kayla Patrick and Neena Chaudhry, Let Her Learn: Stopping School Pushout for Girls in Foster Care (Washington, DC: National Women’s Law Center, 2017),
    • Be Her Resource: A Toolkit About School Resource Officers and Girls of Color is a study that uses girls’ experiences with school resource officers and school discipline to develop principles to guide resource officers in schools.[]Monique W. Morris, Rebecca Epstein, Aishatu Yusuf, Be Her Resource: A Toolkit About School Resource Officers and Girls of Color (Washington, DC: Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality and National Black Women’s Justice Institute, 2017),  It highlights examples of reform around the country.
    • It’s Elementary is a project model that intervenes early in girls’ lives to improve school success and stop their suspension and expulsion from school.[]Vanessa Patino Lydia, Paige Baker, Eva Jenkins, and Aubrey Moore, Girl Matters: It’s Elementary Evaluation Report (Jacksonville, FL: Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, 2014),  The model includes mentoring, crisis intervention, home visiting, and other supports for girls in elementary school.

Child welfare systems

Child welfare systems are designed to address youth behavior stemming from family crises or abuse, so they have an important role to play in the reform of status offense systems. Families struggling with poverty and other challenges can receive support through an array of community-based services that can serve them in their homes or neighborhoods and are not necessarily linked to child welfare. But when homes are found to be unsafe, the child welfare system bears responsibility for a child’s safety and to support the family in addressing abuse or improving harmful conditions.

It is critical for child welfare service providers to implement trauma-responsive programming and practice that is specific to girls’ needs and development. In some jurisdictions, girls and other children frequently cross over from the child welfare system to the justice system for status offenses, an outcome that the reform process may need to address. Crossover of girls and LGB/TGNC children from foster care to juvenile courts often results from behavior such as running away from foster care placements or conflicts with other young people or staff in child-welfare placements. Although girls represent less than a quarter of the overall U.S. juvenile justice population, they constitute between 37 percent and 47 percent of children who cross over from the child welfare system into the juvenile justice system.[]Denise C. Herz and Anika M. Fontaine, Final Data Report for the Crossover Youth Practice Model, Aggregate Report, 2010/2011 Cases (Washington, DC: Center for Juvenile Justice Reform, Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, 2013), 7-8, Data on crossover for LGB/TGNC children is limited, but one study of the Los Angeles system found that they are overrepresented in foster care, and the degree to which they cross over to the juvenile justice system is an issue that warrants attention.[]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,

  1. Systems should make changes so that fewer girls who receive child welfare services become involved in courts. Some resources for child welfare reform are listed below. 

Health and victim support partners

Poor health and unaddressed trauma among girls can significantly contribute to their disengagement in school and to behavioral challenges that cause strain at home or in the child welfare setting. By the time some girls and LGB/TGNC children commit status offenses, their health and trauma-related needs may have led to a high degree of instability, which may include cycling among institutional placements, schools, foster homes, and periods of running away or homelessness, without being connected to a stable or continuous source of mental or physical health care.

Girls who are court-involved or detained by the juvenile justice system are at particularly high risk of poor health outcomes. A 16-year longitudinal study published in Pediatrics found that girls who had ever been detained by the juvenile justice system were nearly five times more likely to die than the general population by the time they reached young adulthood from preventable causes highly correlated with trauma, including suicide and drug overdose; as well as from homicide, including both firearm homicide and homicide without a weapon, which for young women is often connected to intimate partner violence.[]For firearm homicide deaths of children in the juvenile justice system, see Linda A. Teplin, Jessica A. Jakubowski, Karen M. Abram, et al., “Firearm Homicide and Other Causes of Death in Delinquents: A 16-Year Prospective Study,” Pediatrics 134, no. 1 (2014), 63-73, For the correlation between intimate partner violence and trauma, see Emiko Petrosky, Janet M. Blair, Carter J. Betz, et al., “Racial and Ethnic Differences in Homicides of Adult Women and the Role of Intimate Partner Violence—United States, 2003–2014,” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly (CDC) 66, no. 28 (2017), 741-46 (finding that intimate partner violence is the leading cause of homicide among women and disproportionately impacts young women and women of color), For the correlation of suicide attempts, alcoholism, alcohol abuse, and illicit drug use with trauma, see Vincent J. Felitti, Robert F. Anda, Dale Nordenberg, et al., “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 14, no. 4 (1998), 245-58, For the correlation between drug overdose and childhood trauma, see Stephanie Lake, Kanna Hayashi, M-J Milloy, and Thomas Kerr, “Associations Between Childhood Trauma and Non-Fatal Overdose Among People Who Inject Drugs,” Addictive Behaviors 43 no. 1 (2015), 83-88; and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Adverse Childhood Experiences,” updated September 5, 2017, Community-based health or victim services providers may be best positioned to provide the continuity of care required to address these underlying issues related to the health impacts of violence and trauma, especially when they partner with child welfare and educational systems.

The public health system is also key to responding to girls and LGB/TGNC children who are involved in commercial sexual exploitation, an underlying reason why many of them enter the status offense system. Responding to exploited children is challenging, and no one system can do so effectively alone. Over the past several years, many jurisdictions have engaged in cross-system collaboration to develop multidisciplinary policy and practice responses for this population.

  1. Practice guides for collaborations across legal, health, and victim services systems exist to guide reform efforts.

    • The Institute of Medicine and National Research Council published guides for the health care, victim services, and legal sectors, outlining the roles that each can play in preventing and responding to commercial sexual exploitation of minors.[]Ellen Wright Clayton, Richard D. Krugman, and Patti Simon (eds.), Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2013),    
    • Culturally relevant mental health resources can and should be made available for girls and LGB/TGNC children of color in the community. Examples of efforts to offer these services include:
    • ACEs Too High and ACEs Connection are two online resources and communities of practice that can provide helpful resources for addressing the health impacts of trauma in the community.[]ACES Too High News,; and ACEs Connection: A Community-of-Practice Social Network,