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  • Writer's pictureAnn Wrixon

Girls in Foster Care Need Gender-Responsive Trauma-Informed Care

Ann Wrixon blog on female youth in foster care

Trauma-informed care needs to look at the gendered needs of girls in foster care. An article first published in 2013 titled, “Responding to the Needs of Adolescent Girls in Foster care,” by Karen Baynes-Dunning and Karen Worthington outlined this concern.

The article explains that boys tend to externalize their trauma with aggressive behavior while girls turn it inward with high rates of depression, self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse, and risky sexual behavior. Girls in foster care are also much more likely than boys in foster care to be victims of sexual abuse and assault. At particularly high risk for PTSD are female youth who are pregnant or parenting, have been part of multiple systems (such as juvenile justice and child welfare systems) or have been victims of human trafficking.

The juvenile justice system has integrated gender-responsive programming with trauma-informed care in the following ways that the authors suggest the child welfare system could adapt:

“• Provides a safe space, physically and psychologically;

• Stems from an understanding of girls’ psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical development;

• Promotes relationships;

• Addresses the root causes of behavior (asking, “What happened to you?” instead of, “What’s wrong with you?”);

• Provides girls with a sense of control and includes them in decision-making; and

• Comprehensively addresses the multiple issues impacting girls’ lives by integrating care across systems and utilizing trauma-informed providers and services.”

Promoting relationships is of particular interest for those of us who work with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). According to the study, “Connection with others is the central organizing feature of development in girls,” so people working with girls must not underestimate the importance of relationships. Unhealthy and inappropriate relationships are often at the core of trauma that girls are dealing with, so teaching relationship skills and promoting healthy relationships should be among the primary tasks of the child welfare system. . . Child welfare systems must, while addressing safety concerns, facilitate girls’ relationships with their mothers and other maternal figures girls identify as important to them.” Mothers, foster parents, and often CASA volunteers play an important role in providing healthy role models for female foster youth.

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