Yoga May Be Best Way to Help Girls in the Juvenile Justice System Overcome Trauma

A new report by the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality suggests that yoga and mindfulness programs may be the best way to help girls in the juvenile justice system handle the impact of trauma.

In recent years, research has shown that the proportion of girls in the juvenile justice system has steadily increased over the past 20 years, from arrests to probation. Girls often have different and, on-average, deeper experiences of adverse childhood experiences than their male peers. A survey of more than 65,000 juvenile offenders in Florida found that girls were more likely to have experienced family violence, parental separation or divorce, physical and mental abuse, and the incarceration of a family member. In terms of sexual abuse, girls reported sexual abuse 4.4 times more often than boys. 

According to the Georgetown report, juvenile-justice systems have at times struggled to help girls and young women deal with childhood trauma. Many of the traditional approaches used by the juvenile justice system may not be well-suited to the needs of girls. Plus, the way that girls deal with complex trauma may vary from the experiences of boys.

The authors of the Gender and Trauma report looked at ways yoga and mindfulness can be used to reach girls with histories of trauma in the justice system. Starting with two pilot studies in Pennsylvania and Connecticut aimed at girls in residential treatment programs and detention facilities, researchers also interviewed with experts and girls around the country and conducted an extensive literature review.

They found that programs that are trauma-informed, gender-responsive and culturally competent can have short- and long-term effects on girls who have been impacted by the justice system.

Trauma-sensitive interventions using yoga are particularly effective for system-involved girls. Though the report does not promote a certain type of yoga or meditation, techniques like yoga poses, regulated and focused breathing, and meditation or mindfulness are linked to improved resiliency and were shown to help address the symptoms of underlying trauma.

The authors make several recommendations for policy and practice to create greater opportunities for the use of practices like yoga and mindfulness for girls in juvenile-justice settings. The authors suggest adopting the curriculum of successful programs like the Art of Yoga Project as well as advocating for the greater use of funding and infrastructure to support yoga and mindfulness programs at juvenile facilities.

To read the full report, click here.
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