Creating opportunities to lead at JTDC

Written by: Sophia Hastings, former Girls in the Game Social Work Intern

The Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center provides temporary secure housing for youth from the age of 10 through 19 years, who are awaiting adjudication of their cases by the Juvenile Division of the Cook County Courts. The Center also provides care for youth who have been transferred from Juvenile Court jurisdiction to Criminal Court. These youth would otherwise be incarcerated in the county jail. In 2016, Girls in the Game introduced programming to JTDC on Chicago’s Near West Side. *Due to privacy reasons, none of the photos are of JTDC.*

Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to work at the Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC) as part of my internship through Girls in the Game. Our program at JTDC focuses on girls ages 13 to 19 years-old using on our evidence-based leadership, health and sports curriculum. This seems like any other teen programs at Girls in the Game; however, JTDC runs a little differently because the population is continuously changing. What I mean is girls come into JTDC for days at a time to months, so programming cannot run on a week to week basis and building off previous weeks, like our Teen programs. Due to this, we build leadership and coaching opportunities for every session. Girls are the fastest-growing segment in the juvenile justice system (Youth First, 2017); we have stepped in with one of the only fitness or sports-based programs available to teen girls.

Each week, we have two hours of programming. For the first hour, we do a sport that the girls have chosen. Two girls get to volunteer as coaches and lead the activities for the session, including games that correspond to the sport, skills to go over and a scrimmage. Other leadership opportunities include the ‘hype woman,’ who is there to cheer on the other girls throughout the sport, and the person who takes attendance for the day. A lot of these girls do not get opportunities for personal choice or individuality in their day-to-day life. It’s important to have moments where she can make her own decisions and be in control of her life. The girls get to switch up their position each week if they are there for multiple weeks, but they always get a choice. The chosen coaches for the day lead the activities with minimal help from the Girls in the Game coaches–unless they want help, of course. After we play the sport, we do a check-out where we review what we’ve learned and discussed how the girls are feeling. Then, the girls go off to eat dinner.

At the second session, we either do a leadership or health lesson. These lessons range from healthy relationships to personal identity to different communication styles and anything in between. The girls get a chance to learn about each other, learn about various issues and topics that impact their lives and grow together.

As coaches, we always try to make the curriculum as relevant as possible to the girls at JTDC. We talk to them about what they are interested in and what kind of sports they like to play to give them as much choice in their programming as possible. I have learned so much from these girls and have genuinely enjoyed my time working with them over these past two semesters. They are smart, funny, incredibly energetic and thoughtful young women. Our programming at JTDC has been able to be one outlet for the girls to express themselves, and we hope to continue growing here and learn from one another. We hope that by providing an outlet to empower girls in JTDC to find their voice and grow as leaders, they’ll take that confidence into their lives, classrooms and into worlds they never expected to enter