The Girls' Assets Program: Providing Therapeutic Mentoring

Article excerpt

Tanya, a 15-year-old high school student in Denver has a history of truancy, fighting in her neighborhood and threatening family members, and is on probation for motor vehicle theft. The young woman sitting across the table from Tanya at a local Dairy Queen discusses with the teenager her family conflicts, school performance, hobbies and future dreams of success. Over sodas and french fries, Tanya talks about wanting to continue living with her family, but struggles with making good choices about her friends and the activities that interest her. Tanya and her companion discuss a plan to explore new ways of improving her decision-making skills, self-esteem and family interactions. Her companion is a therapeutic mentor with the Girls' Assets Program operated in Denver by Beacon Center, which provides both residential and community-based treatment services to adolescents and their families.

The Girls' Assets Program offers therapeutic mentoring to adolescent females who are on probation. The therapeutic mentors for this program are female master-level therapists working with girls who are at risk of re-offending and out-of-home placement. Therapeutic mentoring combines the basic idea that a mentor is a positive role model with the knowledge and skills of a therapist in an effort to use different approaches and activities to enhance the mentoring relationship.

Program Implementation

The Jefferson County Probation Department initiated the Girls' Assets Program in 2001 as a grant-funded initiative to provide mentors to girls at risk of out-of-home placement, and partnered with Beacon Center to provide the services. The program selected by Jefferson County was presented in a series of national forums held by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, with support from the National Institute of Justice and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention in 1999. (1) These forums focused on combating violent juvenile crime for an audience that included governors' advisers and state officials. Publications supported by OJJDP grants described a new approach using asset development.

Assets, also known as protective factors, were described in these publications as personal characteristics that protect youths from high-risk antisocial behaviors, including substance abuse, dropping out of school, delinquency and violence. Juvenile justice representatives from across the nation learned of the Search Institute's (an organization founded to focus on the healthy development of young people through applied social science research) developmental assets model. (2) This model offers a school-based survey that identifies the assets of its youths and then provides a series of strategies the community can employ to build and expand on those assets.

Beacon Center has been using the Search Institute's 40 developmental assets model as the primary curriculum for the therapeutic mentoring program. The 40 developmental assets emphasize a strengths-based approach to bring out the best in teens. This approach views the teen as a resource, and the focus is on what the youth, her family and community have to offer. It helps the teens develop self-esteem, character, skills and values that prevent problems. The assets model stresses cooperation and collaboration as it recognizes the power of relationships. This model, which emphasizes success, provides a long-term and lifetime view that positive change is possible. Research by the Search Institute regarding the 40 assets demonstrates that the more assets youths possess, the better they are able to cope with issues such as problem alcohol and illicit drug use, sexual activity, violence, school problems, depression and suicide.

An important component of an asset-building program is the use of a nurturing relationship between the youths and their role models/mentors. Most assets are best developed in relationships with parents, relatives, friends, neighbors, teachers or other significant adults (including mentors), in the context of carefully structured programming or curriculums. …