Policy Center wants girls to be prioritized in the next legislative session

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The third and final report in the Status of Girls series has been released, breaking down the issues that Florida girls are facing and how different policies can help.

The series was commissioned by the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and the Florida Women’s Funding Alliance. The first report assessed educational status and disparities. The second report analysed the the U.S. Census Bureau and Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System; the state departments of Education, Children and Families and Juvenile Justice; and a survey data of 27,000 middle and high school girls collected by the Florida Department of Health. This final report focused on the recommendations that can be made at schools and legislative policy changes.

Dr. Vanessa Patino Lydia, the co-author of the final report, said that they have been looking at these trends for the past year and want to make recommendations that could be implemented this year.

“You’ll see that the report calls for some kind of kick starting a movement to make girls a priority in the state of Florida and really emphasizes the urgency of it because of particularly because of COVID and the impact of the pandemic. So those stats that we had shared in our first two publications were all before COVID. And so we know that COVID itself has exacerbated those emotional indicators of well-being and the stressors that families are facing,” Lydia said.

The biggest finding that Lydia notes in the report is that girls, particularly vulnerable ones, were isolated.

“The girls who are most invisible, being the girls of color, girls who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, unsure of their sexual identity, girls living in rural communities, as well as some of the girls who say that they really don’t have anyone, they don’t have a staff or teacher to go to at school and they don’t feel like they can go to a parent for help,” Lydia said. “All of that seems to be highly related to experiencing just greater sadness, greater hopelessness, more suspensions at school, more experiences of victimization and so forth.”

The report found five major findings in their research showing that girls in Florida are facing a crisis, and this is not including how the pandemic is affecting girls now.

FINDING ONE: Victimization of girls in Florida is rampant

The data shows that ten percent of girls in the state have reported being rape and/or physical dating violence. 10 percent of teen pregnancies were cases of statutory rape. More than 7,500 girls were removed from their homes in one year due to physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, or parental drug abuse.

The recommendations the Policy Center has for this is to create a create a culture of nonviolence by implementing consent education in elementary, middle, and high school, mandate training for child welfare investigators, law enforcement, public defenders, and judges on coercive tactics used by older men to exploit, abuse, and victimize girls. They also want to switch the focus from risk reduction to primary prevention by discussing consent with boys at a younger age.

FINDING TWO: The threat to girl’s emotional well-being warrants serious attention

In Duval County, one in four girls have considered suicide, according to the Status of Girls Well-Being in Florida report. The report shows that in 2018-2019, more than 37,000 children were Baker Acted statewide - a 53 percent increase compared to 25,000 children in 2012. There is not a minimum age limit to the Baker Act.

The Policy Center recommends that the RISE from Trauma Act bill be passed in Congress. The bill would establish and extend programs for children who have experienced trauma and give grants to states to ensure health insurance plans comply with mental health parity rules. They also recommend that the Baker Act impose a minimum age limit and reduce the number of children who get Baker Acted. Another policy recommendation is increase access to counselors in school and access to mental health supports, as initially recommended by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.

FINDING THREE: Many girls do not feel safe at school

One-third of girls in Florida report not feeling safe at school. The number increases for Black, Asian, and Hispanic girls. The report states that girls who do not feel sage in school report higher instances of bullying, hopelessness, and sadness. They are also more likely to be suspended from school.

Regarding this finding, the Policy Center has three policy recommendations. The first is to support the School Safety bill that would include support for schools to promote psychological well-being and sage and supportive environments, along with requiring school officers to complete mental health crisis intervention training and de-escalation skills. They also recommend to review policies involving bias and suspension. For example, girls shouldn’t be punished based on their hairstyles and hair textures and school suspensions should not be used for dress code violations.

The last recommendation for this finding is to have the Florida Department of Education, the Department of Health, the Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Juvenile Justice to convene to discuss and address the impact of racism and historical trauma.

FINDING FOUR: Educational attainment disparities vary by race, ethnicity, and geography

More students are reading below grade-level starting in the third grade. Out of the 8,033 girls who were retained in third grade, 40 percent were Black and 37 percent were Hispanic. Data in the research states that the rate of youth not graduating from high school was four times greater among those not reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

In order to help with this third-grade rate, the Policy Center is recommending that the state ban the suspension of girls from Kindergarten through Third Grade.

FINDING FIVE: Girls have high rates of juvenile justice system involvement

Florida has the highest incarceration rate of children, following Texas, California, and New York. Girls are also more likely to be arrested for nonviolent offenses than boys, according to the report.

“We had last year, almost nine thousand girls be arrested and enter, be impacted by the juvenile justice system,” Lydia said.

One of the biggest policy recommendations from the Policy Center is to implement state law that would stop arresting young girls. In 2018–2019, Florida police arrested 71 girls aged 10 and under.

“There was legislation and a bill filed under the school safety bill and actually named an amendment, Kaia Rolle, that it didn’t pass at the very end because they couldn’t reach agreement on whether the law should apply to charter schools. So that legislation is that the bill is drafted. It just has to be refiled and reintroduced,” Lydia said.

Hannah Lee

Hannah Lee is a General Assignment Reporter for 104.5 WOKV.

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