Adolescent girls face numerous challenges during the transition from childhood to adulthood (Feldman & Eliot, 1990; Gunnar & Collins 1988; Lerner & Foch, 1987). Threats to adolescent females' health and well-being include suicide, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, dieting, eating problems, and eating disorders (Millstein, Petersen, & Nightingale, 1993), Girls are three times more likely than boys to have experienced sexual abuse, a major pathway to delinquency (Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP, 1998). Ten percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 become pregnant (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2003). Female adolescent peer relationships have been the source of numerous books and studies in recent years. Delinquency cases involving girls increased by 83% between 1986 and 1997 (OJJDP). Depression remains disproportionately high among adolescent girls, with about a 2 to 1 ratio of girls to boys (Marcotte, Fortin, Potvin, & Papillon, 2002).
Girls' Circle. The Girls' Circle model, a structured support group for girls from 9 to 18 years of age, integrates relational theory, resiliency practices, and skills training in a specific format designed to increase positive connection, personal and collective strengths, and competence. It aims to counteract social and interpersonal forces that impede girls' growth and development and has been utilized in a broad spectrum of settings with diverse populations and programs serving girls since 1994. The model intends to respond to recommendations from national organizations, including the National Council on Research for Women (NCRW, 1998), the American Association of University Women (AAUW, 1991), the United Way of the Bay Area (2003), and the OJJDP (1998) that have pointed to the need for gender-relevant programs that allow girls to voice their experiences, develop positive connections, and gain skills to pursue meaningful goals in education, careers, and relationships. While the programs in many youth-serving organizations aim to support girls, few studies demonstrate the efficacy of a gender-specific model to support adolescent girls' development.
Theory. The Girls' Circle model is based upon the relational-cultural model of female psychology, identified and developed by Miller (1991) and further refined in relation to adolescent girls by feminist and relational theorists and scholars (Brown & Gilligan, 1992; Ward, 2000; Jordan, 1991; Leadbeater, & Way, 1996; and others). "Relational-Cultural Theory (RCT) suggests that growth-fostering relationships are a central human necessity and disconnections are the source of psychological problems" according to the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at Wellesley Stone Center, Wellesley Center for Women. The theory views a girl's connections with others as a central organizing feature in her psychological make-up. The quality of these connections determines her overall psychological health, self-image, and relationships. Essential mechanisms of healthy connections include the capacity to voice experience honestly and to receive attentive, empathic listening. Brown and Gilligan (1992) state that "connection and responsive relationships are essential for psychological development" and suggest the critical need for girls to have the opportunity to experience authenticity within relationships with peers and adults, to counter the "crisis of connection" which characterizes adolescent female experience.
Within the relational-cultural theory, the Girls' Circle model aims to increase protective factors and reduce risk factors in adolescent girls, as defined by resiliency researchers such as Benard, (2004). Hallmarks of the development of resiliency in youth are high expectations, caring and support, and meaningful participation within their communities. Positive identification with one's own cultural ethnic, or racial group increases resiliency traits as well (Benard, 2004). …