Division of Juvenile Justice

Gender responsivity is priority at VYCF

The Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) makes gender responsivity and self-advocacy a priority. Gender responsiveness refers to outcomes that demonstrate an understanding of gender roles; encourages equal participation and fair distribution of benefits through gender inclusiveness.

Gender responsivity and self-advocacy are ways in which we encourage all youth to represent their views and express their concerns within the confines of a rehabilitative setting.  That insight and healing can only take place if a youth feels safe and secure enough to address their trauma, focus, learn and thrive. 

At the Ventura Youth Correctional Facility, the only facility that houses both male and female youth, DJJ staff cultivate trauma informed strategies to facilitate rehabilitation. Of late, an emerging focus has been meaningfully enhancing services to the LGBTQ+ population. 

Gender responsivity means using appropriate pronouns

For example, using appropriate pronouns when addressing our LGBTQ+ population is an important piece of gender responsiveness, a process whose efforts are appreciated by youth who identify as transgender.

“They (DJJ staff) are always respectful and on top of getting my pronouns right which are he, him and his,” said one transgender youth. “They also make sure with every given situation you feel comfortable and that you are treated equally.”

Another VYCF youth reinforced this view. “They ask us about what our preferences are, like who we want to search us when we are searched. Then they ask where we want to be housed in terms of gender. I’m more comfortable wearing male clothing so I am able to.”

Ongoing administrative supervision, staff training and youth feedback creates greater awareness of the importance of consistently using gender-specific pronouns.

Youth leadership encouraged

Youth are encouraged to take a leadership role in self-advocacy and gender responsivity for themselves and their peers. They can do this by accepting positions of responsibility throughout VYCF. These posts include Grievance Clerks, Student Council members, Youth Mentors, and Youth Community Leaders. They can also attend] gender responsive meetings. 

The philosophical underpinnings of DJJ’s Integrated Behavioral Treatment Model (IBTM) such as “responsivity” and emphasis on positive reinforcement to change negative behavior, drives treatment and supports a space of learning, training and evolution for both youth and staff.

“IBTM supports a therapeutic approach facilitating a healthy environment and robust rapport between youth and staff. (This) is conducive to addressing salient issues impacting our population, including our LGBTQ+ youth,” said DJJ Director Heather Bowlds. 

Staff gets enhanced training

Enhanced training encompasses physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, teachers, and ongoing staff training. There is also community outreach to religious volunteers, youth organizations, women’s groups and the LGBTQ+ Community. This is all essential in achieving and maintaining gender responsivity and self-advocacy.

DJJ is rolling out a new training for staff in 2021 entitled “Working with LGBTI youth in DJJ Facilities.” This training was designed for DJJ by Just Detention International in partnership with Cal-CASA (the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault).

The training was funded partially through Cal OES. The three-hour training covers a variety of topics specifically tailored to address the needs of youth.

The training instills a culture of care, ensuring staff have the tools to assist LGBTI youth prepare for a healthy transition back to the community.

“We’re excited and pleased that CPOST has approved this course curricula,” said Dr. Jonathan Yip, Associate Director of Mental Health. “This course will go a long way towards helping staff adapt to the needs of our most vulnerable youth.”

The course includes modules:

  • Basics about LGBTI Youth
  • LGBTI Youth in Detention
  • PREA Standards and DJJ Policies around LGBTI Youth
  • and Working with LGBTI Youth.

Supporting gender responsivity is an effective means of ensuring amplification and inclusion of all voices to elevate and improve rehabilitation for all DJJ youth. 

Submitted by PIO Karette Fussell, PIO for Ventura Youth Correctional Facility