The System


A Way Out

Three young women stand in an office in front of windows: the African American girl on the right is looking down at the baby she holds in her arms. The Latina girl, in the middle, looks on as the Caucasian girl on the left, wearing glasses, reaches for the infant.

A young, African American woman in a pink shirt sits at a table with her hands on a keyboard in front of her. She is looking at the camera and smiling, her braided golden-hued hair is pulled back.
Above: Participants of CYWD’s
Sisters Rising program

When it comes to girls, the juvenile justice system is seriously flawed. Women and girls represent almost 30 percent of total juvenile arrests but they receive only two percent of services nationwide, according to the American Bar Association. Most of the programs that do exist for girls are modeled after programs for males.

GIRL TROUBLE features two programs that are pushing the boundaries when it comes to helping girls in the system. The Walden House SisterKin Project and The Center for Young Women’s Development’s Sisters Rising internship programs address issues like sexual abuse, self-esteem and community as part of the healing process for women.

“There’s an element of sisterhood and spiritual development…that is crucial to women who have been victims of extreme poverty, sexual assault or any kind of violence,” said Lateefah Simon, former director of the Center for Young Women’s Development. “Young women are often only reacting to the traumas that have been inflicted upon them.”

Learn more about Project SisterKin and Sisters Rising, the innovative social programs featured in GIRL TROUBLE.

Walden House

“I’m not surrounded by all this negativity and all this loud noise and being out there, having to worry about my mom and worry about where I was going to sleep that night, worry about what I was going to eat.  I don’t have that many worries right now.” 
—Shangra on Walden House in GIRL TROUBLE

A large Spanish-style two-story beige institutional structure with an adobe red tile roof, sits next to a one-story building of the same style; electrical wires are visible overhead
Walden House female adolescent residential treatment center
Courtesy of Walden House

Founded in 1969 to provide treatment and services to disenfranchised young people in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district, today, Walden House offers the only residential substance abuse services for adolescents in San Francisco.

To change the behaviors and destructive thought patterns of girls coping with violent or abusive relationships, drug abuse and low self-esteem.

Project SisterKin
An 18-bed residential rehabilitation facility founded in 1994 for girls, age 13 to 18, project SisterKin is typically a last stop for those who have not succeeded in other programs. Many residents are referred to the facility by a probation officer, The Department of Human Services or Child Protective Services. The program provides on-site services designed to help girls manage their emotions and move beyond past traumas. Project SisterKin provides classes in anger management and relapse prevention, individual and family therapy, 12-step meetings and nutrition and exercise. There is also an on-site community day school staffed by a San Francisco Unified School District teacher.

Length of Stay
Girls may stay at Project SisterKin anywhere from six months to one year, sometimes longer. Girls can remain in the program until age 18.

The estimated costs for services provided to a resident of Project SisterKin is $7,129 per month. Funding comes from federal, state and county mental health, substance abuse and family programs, as well as private donations.

The Center for Young Women’s Development

A young woman, in a beige baseball cap, leans over a form she is filling out. She wears a beige, long-sleeved sweater, a long, multi-colored beaded necklace and large silver hoop earrings.

“At the Center we believe that you are in a more empowered position to talk to another young woman about her case and what she is going to face.  And that girl is going to listen to you and respect what you got to say, and probably follow your advice, because she knows that you have been there.”
— Lateefah Simon, CYWD Program Director 1993-1995

Founded in 1993 by a coalition of service providers working with young and adult women in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, the Center’s guiding principle is that young women are the experts on issues impacting their lives and the solutions to best combat those issues.

To empower and inspire young women who have been involved with the juvenile justice system and/or the underground street economy. The Center’s innovative programs—designed by girls who have been on the street—help young women change their lives, build community and reach out to others who need help.

A young, pregnant African American woman stands with her eyes closed and her hand resting on her belly. She wears a pink shirt printed with a drawing of a womanıs clenched fist, and holds a white ceremonial pillar candle inside a tall, glass holder. Three other pillar candles illuminate the dark background.

Sisters Rising
Sisters Rising is a part-time paid internship for girls age 16 to 24 that incorporates healing, skills development, political education, community organizing and reintegration into the community. The program—which is not court mandated—targets low-income girls who are participating in the street economy, including prostitution and drug sales and/or involved in the criminal or juvenile justice system.

Girls must apply for a spot in Sisters Rising, which only accepts 17 women per year due to the intensive nature of the program. Participants earn $10.50 per hour and work 15 to 20 hours per week. Components of the internship include reaching out to girls on the street and in the juvenile system and completing a community-based “action project.” Recently, Sisters Rising interns enacted anti-discrimination policy for queer youth in juvenile hall and wrote a resource book, The Hook Ups, to help girls find jobs after leaving the system.

After nine months, Sisters Rising interns move into a six-week professional development “externship” that matches girls with a job according to their interests. Girls have worked as interns with the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, the San Francisco Public Defender’s office, unions and social service groups.

Length of Stay
Sisters Rising is a nine-month program followed by a six-week externship.

Thirteen thousand dollars per young woman, with $7 thousand going directly into girls’ pockets as salary. Funding comes from foundations, individual donors and state funding earmarked for youth employment.

Read a Q&A with community leader and youth activist Lateefah Simon >>

Except where noted, photos courtesy of The Center for Young Women’s Development

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