A new Gwen’s Girls initiative aims to reduce juvenile justice referrals in Allegheny County

Alexis, photographed at Gwen’s Girls on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, on the North Side. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Caring Connections for YOUth will work on intervention and prevention efforts while providing supports to Pittsburgh students.

by Lajja Mistry, PublicSource

Alexis was in elementary school when school police referred her to the juvenile justice system for arguing with a teacher. Three years ago, at age 14, she was arrested again for yelling at other students. This time, she was also expelled from the school.  

“I was nervous and scared,” said Alexis, whose last name and whose schools are being withheld at her request.

Alexis is not alone. In 2020, a report by the Black Girls Equity Alliance [BGEA], an initiative of Gwen’s Girls, found extreme racial disparities in juvenile justice referrals and overcriminalization of Black youth across Allegheny County. 

In response to the report, Gwen’s Girls, a nonprofit organization that works to empower young girls through programs, education and experiences, has initiated a community-wide intervention and prevention helpline called Caring Connections for YOUth. 

Through Caring Connections for YOUth [CC4Youth], Gwen’s Girls and the BGEA have partnered with the United Way 211 helpline, so school administrators, police, teachers and parents can be connected with professionals and organizations who can intervene and provide support in situations such as fights, truancy, disorderly conduct or other minor offenses.

Referrals can also be made directly through Gwen’s Girls or the CC4Youth website

Kathi Elliott, CEO of Gwen’s Girls, said one of the main priorities after releasing the report was to focus on intervening and preventing referrals to juvenile justice systems. Into 2021, Gwen’s Girls met with community members, leaders and organizations that could provide support to the youth and their families. 

“Instead of focusing on what new intervention strategies we could come up with, it only made sense for us to develop a process that bridged the gap and improved access and collaboration and communication with folks that were seeking support and needing of support,” said Elliott. 

Sara Nevels, a Caring Connection for YOUth supervisor, said that referrals have started coming directly from schools, the magistrate’s office and community youth-serving agencies and organizations.

Alexis thinks that if there was something like Caring Connections for YOUth back when she was arrested, she would have been able to ask for help. 

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