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Dec
22

Mental Health During the Holidays

The media often presents the holidays as a cheerful time for all. Images of couples kissing under the mistletoe and families gathered around a warm fire dominate our screens throughout the season.

But sometimes, what should be a joyful time instead reminds people of the challenges in their lives; couples being asked when they’ll have children while silently battling with infertility or miscarriages, reminders of lost loved ones, family members experiencing the criminal justice system, or interactions with people who may have caused harm and trauma.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people with mental illness report that the holidays make their conditions worse. Children and teens are not immune from this, as the highest rate of child psychiatric hospitalizations occurs in the winter.

For young women and girls, who according to the CDC experience higher rates of depression than their male counterparts, it is especially important to have access to resources that help them cope with seasonal stress, depression and anxiety brought on by the holidays.

Pace provides support to girls by centering their experiences as young women in today’s world and recognizing how trauma may inform the choices they make.

“This Christmas will be hard for us because this will be the first Christmas without my dad,” said Jennifer, a 16-year old Pace student. “He passed on the 25th of September of this year, so the 25th of December will be even harder. I see my mom doing her best to be strong, so I’m trying to be strong for her. I just wish people understood that Christmas isn’t about presents – it’s about family, so don’t take them for granted.”

We could all use a little more kindness in our lives, so it’s always important to remember that you never know the internal struggles the person in front of you may be smiling through.

Everyone, regardless of their story, deserves safe and supportive spaces to heal. Keep in mind, it’s ok to take care of yourself in whatever way is best for you this holiday season.

Nov
18

Florida Blue & Pace Center for Girls – A Partnership Impacting Girls and Communities Across Florida

If the past year and a half has taught us anything, we’ve learned everyone can play a role in creating a more just and equitable society. For more than 35 years, Pace Center for Girls has been working to advance its mission and transform the lives of girls and young women.

For more than 20 years, Florida Blue, the state’s Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, has supported Pace Center for Girls with meaningful funding, advocacy, and employee engagement. The Florida Blue Foundation values organizations and programs that show promise of lasting community benefit and measurable impact.

Florida Blue’s support of Pace ensures that girls and their families have access to equitable academic and health opportunities, without regard to socio-economic status. 

Sejan, a senior studying chemistry with a minor in leadership at the University of North Florida, experienced these opportunities firsthand.

“Little did I know, when starting with Pace, I was about to receive not only non-judgmental and quality care, but a program and an organization that truly cared and strived to ensure my wellbeing and future academic success.”

Florida Blue’s continued support of Pace has helped build the capabilities and capacity needed for programming and service delivery, strengthening communities across the state.

In addition, the investment in specific markets across Florida directly impacts mental health services for girls and their families, as well as the greater community. This support has allowed Pace to focus on strengthening Pace Reach Counseling Services, providing much needed counseling, case management and mental health services in partnership with schools and community organizations beyond the walls of Pace Centers.

“Our experience with the Reach program was just indescribable. The therapist assigned to us was nurturing, calm and had the amazing ability to help us see things in a way we would not have been able to recognize on our own. Our Reach therapist helped untie knots in our complex relationship and recognize the good in each other.” – Gilda, Parent

Florida Blue’s partnership goes beyond the organizational level and connects at the individual level. It’s Women’s Interactive Network (WIN), a powerful group of more than 100 women, connects directly with girls in communities where they have great need for mentoring, school supplies and basic needs items such as food, clothing, and hygiene products.

True organizational partnerships are about more than a donation. Over the years, several Florida Blue leaders have donated their time by serving on the Pace Center for Girls Board of Trustees to help Pace advance its mission.

Florida Blue’s commitment to health equity, mental health services, and improving the communities it serves are evident in its investments and commitments to the more than 3,000 girls and young women that Pace touches annually.

Oct
27

Youth Justice Action Month

October is Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM), hosted by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the National Juvenile Justice Network.  This month, commemorated since 2008, encourages action to raise awareness and educate the public about the impact of the justice system on children.  The topics of this year’s YJAM included policies to keep youth out of the justice system, ending the treatment of youth as adults, and investing in families and communities to prevent youth detention and incarceration. 

We are proud to join the fight to create a world where all girls and young women have power, in a just and equitable society.  We advocate for legislation that develops comprehensive systems of care for girls at risk of delinquency and sexual exploitation; provides access to comprehensive wrap-around services, including well-being and mental health; and removes barriers to education and employment for girls. 

These efforts include eliminating gender and racial inequities in the juvenile justice system and ending the direct filing of children in the adult corrections system, which can lead to more serious harm and trauma.  Our focus also includes expanding the use of civil citations and other diversion programs that steer youth away from the justice system, while also ensuring these opportunities are provided to all youth equitably, regardless of race and location.  Additionally, we support expanding the ability to expunge juvenile arrest records after the completion of a diversion program, which holds youth accountable for their actions without jeopardizing public safety.

We partner with the Florida legislature and state agencies to provide holistic delinquency prevention and early intervention model that diverts girls from costly systems involvement and guides them toward a path to success at home, in school, and in their communities.  For more information about YJAM and reforming the youth criminal justice system, visit the Coalition for Juvenile justice at www.juvjustice.org and the National Juvenile Justice Network at www.njjn.org.

Sep
27

Elevating the Voice of the Girl

When working with girls and young women, it is important to understand the implications of Gender Pathways Theory.  This theory demonstrates that girls are often involved with the justice system for different reasons than boys, including the type of offenses, the reasons behind the behavior, and how the offenses are carried out.  The most common reasons women and young girls head down this path include victimization, mental health issues, and substance abuse.  In fact, sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of justice system involvement for girls.  Therefore, prevention and early intervention strategies to steer women and young girls away from and out of the justice system must include holistic treatment designed specifically for girls who have experienced trauma, rather than punitive environments and practices that may likely cause additional trauma.

Gender-responsive models have key program elements aimed at enhancing protective factors. Protective factors are internal and external resources, such as positive adult relationships, problem-solving skills, and a sense of hope, that help minimize the impact of stress and adversity.  Understanding the existing gender differences during development, such as learning style and relational preferences, helps build an environment where girls can thrive.  

Creating emotional and physical safety is a core component of our model.  This sense of safety is woven throughout the design of the program space by spending time and energy developing authentic connections between girls and team members and providing girls choices to take ownership for themselves.  Effective gender-responsive models are collaborative, share power with girls, and give girls opportunities to use their voice and grow as leaders. A focus on understanding the intersection of multiple identities, such as race, gender, and sexual identity, and celebrating each girl’s sense of culture are also critical to the success of the program.

The outcome we hope to achieve is for girls to feel empowered, gain a sense of mastery, and focus on healing through goal planning that is steered by the girls themselves.  Girls bring with them a voice and successful gender-responsive programming provides elevation and amplification of those voices.

Aug
16

Community-Based Program Helps Girls Reach Their Full Potential

By: Aggie Pappas in partnership with The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Originally published by The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Gender-responsive services cultivate girls’ strengths in an effort to boost protective factors in their lives and to help prevent future involvement with the justice system.

I have devoted much of my professional career to empowering girls and young women. Girls at risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system often face issues—such as exposure to violence, trauma, and mental health problems—that require a unique response, one the juvenile justice system is not well-positioned to address.

At the Pace Center for Girls we provide year-round, middle school and high school academics along with life skills, coaching, and counseling to girls who are involved in or at risk for involvement in the juvenile justice system.

The free program, which serves about 3,000 girls annually at 22 locations across Florida and Georgia, helps girls and young women heal from trauma, build prosocial skills, and reduce unhealthy behaviors.

Pace offers a comprehensive academic curriculum and social services, doubling the likelihood that participants will graduate high school, according to a 2019 study. The curriculum emphasizes a gender-responsive, strengths-based, and trauma-informed approach to help each girl cope with her past and prepare for the future. To start this transformation, we surround each girl with unconditional love, safety, and support.

OJJDP has supported Pace with multiple grants since our first center opened in 1985. Last year, OJJDP awarded Pace a 3-year, $425,000 grant to launch the Reach Counseling in Macon, GA. The grant paved the way for us to begin serving girls in Georgia, after launching the program at some of our Florida locations in 2009.

In contrast to our day centers, the Reach program focuses on behavioral counseling. Participants can receive therapy at a Pace center, at school, home, or another community site; or they can access it online. Girls can participate in group counseling as well.

The Reach Counseling program has been shown to help girls improve relationships with friends and family, improve their grades, develop concrete plans for the future, and deal with adversity. Our data also show that compared to 71 percent of program participants who had no involvement with the juvenile justice system when they started, 95 percent had no involvement with the juvenile justice system 1 year after completing Reach. The program served 980 girls in fiscal year 2020.

In response to community needs, we’ve added three new components to the Reach program:

  • New Day—A diversion and civil citation program for girls who have been arrested for minor offenses.
  • Family Strengthening—A family reunification program for girls at risk of being removed from their homes.
  • Healthy Girls—An independent transition program for girls leaving the foster care or juvenile justice systems.

While I’ve found it particularly gratifying to serve as a catalyst in the girls’ transformation, what stands out to me is their resilience. Pace has developed a proven model for providing girls an opportunity for a better future. I’ve seen it work time and time again.

Resources:

The OJJDP bulletin Girls in the Juvenile Justice System provides a statistical portrait of girls in the juvenile justice system, including trends in the demographics of this population, the offenses they committed, and how they move through the system.

OJJDP anticipates making seven awards under its fiscal year 2021 Reducing Risk for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System program. The program is intended to reduce risk factors and promote protective factors for girls who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, and place them on a path toward success.