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Rehabilitative programming for girls involved in California’s Juvenile Justice System

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Categories
Community , Education , Healthcare
Location
United States
Cycle Year
2016
The Art of Yoga Project
http://www.theartofyogaproject.org
Lisa Pedersen
(650) 996-1904
lisa@theartofyogaproject.org
555 Bryant Street, #232
Palo Alto
CA
94301
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The Art of Yoga Project (AYP) leads teen girls, aged 12-18, involved in the San Francisco Bay area's juvenile justice system toward accountability to self, others and community by providing practical tools to effect behavioral change. AYP specializes in innovative gender-responsive rehabilitation using a holistic, evidence-based approach to promote girls’ self-awareness, self-respect, and self-control. We send specially-trained yoga teachers and creative arts educators into juvenile detention centers and rehabilitation facilities to teach a proprietary, strength-based intervention program.
Benefits
An overwhelming number of incarcerated teen girls are victims themselves, caught in cycles of violence and abuse. AYP is working to end cycles of violence and victimization for at-risk, incarcerated and exploited teen girls. Our goal is for each and every marginalized girl, regardless of her ethnicity, race, sexual identity, social class, or background to feel valued, know her self-worth and break free from victimization into empowerment and well-being.
Proposal Description
AYP provides at-risk, exploited and incarcerated girls the tools and skills necessary to foster a positive self-image, healthy relationship skills, and a sense of self-worth. Our programming is essential because teen girls have been the fastest growing segment of the incarcerated population for the last two decades, and yet the juvenile justice system remains largely tailored to the needs of boys and young men. The need for gender-responsive services is supported by a growing number of studies that show girls tend to commit crimes that are minor and nonviolent; are younger when they enter the system, and their path to delinquency usually begins with an abusive family or relationship. A study by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network shows that more than 75% of youth in the juvenile justice system have experienced trauma and more than half have developed trauma symptoms. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency estimates that in California, 81% of incarcerated girls have been physically abused, and 56% have been sexually abused. By the time a girl enters the juvenile justice system, she has experienced tremendous trauma, which often leads to co-occurring mental-health disorders including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, impulsivity, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Detaining these young girls with minor offenses, particularly those who have been commercially sexually exploited, can further victimize already traumatized youth. Research suggests that these girls would benefit more from rehabilitation, therapy, tools to build self-respect, and health education versus punishment and incarceration. AYP classes create a safe, therapeutic environment within the juvenile justice system to bring teen girls out of destructive patterns and victimization, and into accountability, empowerment, and well-being. The approach is gender-responsive, addressing the unique and specific needs of girls, creating an environment that reflects the realities of girls’ lives, and acknowledging their unique developmental experiences and pathways to problem behaviors. The cornerstone of AYP is our proprietary Yoga and Creative Arts Curriculum. Yoga and art were chosen as therapeutic tools because of the increased responsiveness of women and girls to these interventions. The curriculum combines health education, character development, yoga, meditation and creative arts. Using the tools taught, the girls begin to identify the issues that cause them to make poor choices, manage their anger and impulses, and develop a productive outlet for their emotions and dreams. Classes combine a strengthening yoga practice with a creative art or writing activity. Yoga gives the girls safe ways to push limits and test boundaries and helps balance the intense hormones and powerful emotions of adolescence. The practice grounds and centers the girls and allows them to connect with the best parts of themselves. The creative process provides a vehicle for expression and a context for processing thoughts and emotions. The program builds trust in a circle of supportive peers and teachers, which is especially effective for young women with histories of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. A safe space is created where trust can be developed and authentic sharing becomes possible. In order to meet the needs of the most trauma-impacted girls, AYP is currently developing a fourth proprietary curriculum entitled Wise Inside. This curriculum is based on the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT), a cutting-edge approach that informs our work in many ways. The NMT model guides us to pay special attention to class sequencing so that it maximizes our effectiveness. Our trauma-informed lesson plans apply four functional categories — Sensory Integration, Self-Regulation, Relational and Cognitive — that mimic a girl’s neurodevelopment. We move through them sequentially in each class to ensure a girl is receptive to our intervention. We do this because a girl’s chronic and unpredictable trauma has had neurobiological consequences, affecting her ability to regulate her emotions and take in information. Therefore, we must first attend to that lower-brain dysregulation before asking her to connect with others, think and reflect. Another way of explaining this sequencing is with the “three R’s”— first we must Regulate, then Relate then Reason. This class sequencing prevents and minimizes the activation of the girls’ stress response systems. AYP’s goal is to help break the cycle of violence and victimization for marginalized girls, and lead them towards empowerment and well-being. AYP provides year-round programming with highly structured activities that teach girls pro-social skills, anger-management and emotional regulation techniques, and healthy alternatives to self-destructive behavior. We incorporate gender-responsive, trauma-informed, mindfulness-based practices that give girls foundational shifts in their thinking, ultimately affecting short and long-term decision-making and behaviors. We work closely with our partners in probation, mental health and other community-based organizations to design our sessions for maximum engagement and effectiveness. Funding would be applied toward our FY17 (July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017) program costs which include: providing adequate yoga and art supplies for the girls at each of the facilities we currently serve, salaries for the site directors, yoga teachers and art therapists, teaching materials/curriculum outlines, and in-service trainings for all program personnel who have direct contact with the girls at our sites. Thank you for the opportunity to share our work.