When You Look Good You Feel Good
As I’m driving into Orange County nothing seems familiar. Suddenly my heart feels heavy-I begin to recognize the area. I’m heading towards my old group home and I’m captured by feelings of nostalgia. I remember running down the street, stopping at the gas station, and picking up the payphone as a van abruptly stops in front of me. The door slides open, a women reaches out her hand and says “come back and gives us a chance”. “Me, give them a chance?”- I felt empowered, and it was the first time in 3 years that someone treated me like a person and not a criminal. This place ended my time in the juvenile justice and child welfare system, so why am I back?
I returned as Crittenton’s research assistant – Crittenton Services for Children and Families is a social service agency that specializes in the reformation of girls and young mothers who have come in contact with the juvenile justice, child welfare, and mental health systems. They are known for their humanitarian approaches and focus on positive youth development.
What is Positive Youth Development?
Positive youth development (PYD) is a field of practice that applies lessons from the science of adolescent development to the routine practices of youth-serving organizations (Butts, Gordon, & Aundra, 2010).
Why is it Important?
Developmental research finds that the teenage brain is attracted to sensation seeking at a time when there is a lack of emotional and behavioral control (Bonnie & Scoot, 2013). As Berkeley Professor Ronald E Dahl says, it is like “starting the engines without a skilled driver” (Dahl, 2001, p.8).
Consequently, it is no surprise that much research finds that a response to delinquent behavior focused on punishment and incarceration causes more harm than good, often re-traumatizing the youth (Collaborative for Change). Thus, responses have begun to incorporate scientifically informed practices. You might ask- what does this look like? What kind of impact does it have?
To answer these questions I observed Crittenton’s Day of Beauty, an event held every year. The day of beauty is an event where numerous hair stylists, make-up artists, manicurists, and pedicurists volunteer to provide Crittenton’s clients with a makeover. The clients also receive goody bags with hygiene and beauty products and a photo of themselves to remember that special day. Even the youngest of clients are included in the festivities, meaning the children of the young mothers receiving treatment at Crittenton were not forgotten throughout the event.
“Why do they do this for us?”- Client A
At Crittenton’s Day of Beauty event, clients were surrounded by adults who volunteered their time to make the girls feel good about themselves. At first some Crittenton youth expressed apprehension towards the volunteers not understanding that these volunteers gave their time with no strings attached. Soon the Crittenton youth began to encourage each other to participate in the event so they could take pictures together. The volunteers were complete strangers, most never having experienced the traumas that Crittenton clients have. Yet, they were there without judgment to provide a supportive environment. With this display of emotional support the girl’s attitude changed from distrusting to appreciative.
Wouldn’t you have a change of attitude being in a supportive environment rather than a punitive one? In support of this practice, research finds that adolescents are most receptive to experiences that occur in the context of valued relationships, with peers their age or with genuine and caring adults (Butts, Gordon, & Aundra, 2010). Furthermore, specific to hairdressing, a research study found that after hairdressing women’s psychological mood such as joy in life, energy and sociability increased significantly, while anxiety, stress and aggressiveness decreased significantly (Picot‐Lemasson, Decocq, Aghassian, & Leveque, 2001).
“Today I don’t feel like I am in trouble”- Client B
A comprehensive review on factors that help individuals desist from crime include getting older and maturing, being believed in, and NOT HAVING A CRIMINAL IDENTITY. What better way to normalize Crittenton girls than provide them with a day of beauty? By taking away the stigma of being system-involved youth, Crittenton youth can see themselves in a new light. Furthermore, the fact that the event was mostly volunteer-based provides them with the notion that not all people see them as “bad kids” or even worse criminals.
One client put it best when she stated that this activity changed the way she felt about herself. In support, research finds that having someone believe in them reduces re-offense (Ministry of Justice, 2014). Furthermore studies find that people who see themselves as basically good people who made mistakes may find it easier to lessen maladaptive behaviors (Butts, Gordon, & Aundra, 2010).
Is this Practice the Magic Bullet?
Not quite. System-involved youth can be affected by many traumas which can require intensive mental health programs and practices that target those issues. Still some researchers feel that a developmental approach in boosting self-esteem is an appropriate method of practice when engaging with all adolescents (Butts, Gordon, & Aundra, 2010).
Often the outcomes of a practice will not be evident right away, but the potential benefits of an experience like Crittenton’s Day of Beauty are endless: improving family relationships, feeling connected to a social network, gaining hope and motivation, and gaining a positive self-image – all factors found to decrease re-offense (Ministry of Justice, 2014).
Small changes in behavior can also translate into larger ones later on. For example, researchers believe that a reinforced change in self-image can alter personality or behavior (Lemasson, Decocq, Aghassian & Levequey, 2001).
How to Show Your Support
Researchers affirm that PYD practices are resource intensive and require the support from community partners (Butts, Gordon, & Aundra, 2010). So, when you hear the phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child,”…it in fact holds true. For those wondering how you can make a difference in the lives of system-involved youth and are interested in helping an organization that believes in positive youth development and justice, feel free to connect with us. We have various opportunities for you to become engaged with our mission at every-level:
- Bonnie, R. J., & Scott, E. S. (2013). The Teenage Brain: Adolescent Brain Research and the Law. Current directions in psychological science, 22(2), 158-161.
- Butts, Gordon, & Aundra (2010). Strengthening Youth Justice Practices with Developmental Knowledge and Principles.
- Collaborative for Change. Trauma among Youth in the Juvenile Justice System. cfc.ncmhjj.com accessed Sept. 2015
- Dahl, R. (2001). Affect regulation, brain development, and behav- ioral/emotional health in adolescence. CNS Spectrum, 6, 1–12.
- Ministry of Justice (2014). Transforming Rehabilitation: a summary of evidence on reducing reoffending.
- Picot‐Lemasson, A., Decocq, G., Aghassian, F., & Leveque, J. L. (2001). Influence of hairdressing on the psychological mood of women. International journal of cosmetic science.
Lucero Noyola serves as the Communications and Research Fellow for Crittenton Services for Children and Families of Southern California (CSCF). In this role she assists with agency communications efforts relating to Crittenton’s child welfare advocacy, positive youth justice initiatives, adverse childhood experiences research and other Crittenton historical archive projects relating to the agency’s upcoming 50th anniversary celebration. Ms. Noyola has also been given the role of a Crittenton community ambassador during the 2015-2016 year in order to help acknowledge Crittenton’s years of dedicated service to the most vulnerable children, youth, and families of Southern California. As a former Crittenton client in Crittenton’s Residential Treatment Services program she is appreciative of the agency for empowering her to discover her own strengths and encouraging her to follow her dreams. She knows all too well the challenges America’s foster care and juvenile justice youth face as they transition out of system-involvement, and hopes to one day help system-involved youth by pursuing a career in social services and research. She is currently a graduating senior at the University of Southern California (USC) double-majoring in Psychology and Sociology, and has recently helped launch the Trojan Guardian Scholars Program where she also helps mentor current and former system-involved youth enrolled as college students at the university.