Girls' Aggression and Child Welfare Social Work: Assessment and Intervention A series of 13 blogs
The goals of work with young people with aggressive behaviors are to stop the aggression and foster prosocial behaviors through building relationships of trust. Through trusting relationships, young people develop compassion for self and others. These principles underlie effective interventions. This series of blogs provides guidelines for compassion-based interventions. More
We wrote this series of blogs on girls’ aggression for child welfare social workers. The information is also useful to other service providers, educators, and parents. We have a special emphasis on relational aggression and how to build relationships with young people who have issues with aggression.
About three million cases of child abuse and neglect are reported each year, and one million cases are substantiated. These children have experienced complex trauma, which is a series of adversities that are so upsetting that they affect mood, attention, and emotional health and also threaten healthy social, emotional, and neurological development. Children with complex trauma, such as physical and verbal abuse in combination with loss and abandonments, are at risk to behave in aggressive ways. Child welfare social workers, therefore, routinely provide services to children and their families where the children have issues with aggression.
The goal of service to young people who have issues with aggression is to foster their self-compassion that in turn leads to compassion for others. The development of self-compassion arises through experiences of being treated with compassion. This means building relationships with young people. In this blog series, we recommend relational interviews, which are of means encouraging young people to talk about what is important to them. With the establishment of trust, reduction of aggression and increases in prosocial behaviors are possible.
African American young people are over-represented in child welfare caseloads and are also over-represented in cases of aggressive behaviors, suspensions, expulsions, and school dropouts. Child welfare social workers, therefore, negotiate complex issues related to race, ethnicity, gender, trauma, and school policies when they provide services to young clients who behave in aggressive ways.
In schools, aggression affects the safety of students and staff. It also affects learning and the capacities of young people to develop healthy peer relationships. Aggression has similar affects in other settings such as families, neighborhoods, and recreational facilities. Learning and optimal social development take place in settings where people feel safe.
In these blogs, we provide information to child welfare social workers that will guide them to take leadership that promotes the creation of conditions where young people who had been aggressive become prosocial in how they deal with situations that had previously provoked them to behave aggressively. Research shows that effective interventions are based upon relationships of trust. Without trust, interventions are ineffective.
We focus on girls because in recent years public officials have created policies and programs for boys, especially African Americans, while the issues that girls grapple with have received less attention. Concern for boys is understandable given the concern over police shootings of young black men and the well-documented rates of arrest and incarceration of black males. In the focus on males, however, girls have been overlooked despite similar rates of school dropouts and underperformance. In addition, teenage girls are subject to stereotyping that affects their behaviors and life chances such as teen pregnancy. One in four African American girls become pregnant as teens.
Racial stereotyping, expectations, and perceptions of young African American girls as aggressive underachievers are connected to their higher rates of suspensions and expulsions despite data that show they commit infractions at the same rate as other students. Melanie Horton, a 17-year old senior from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, said, “Day-to-day things—you’re bossy, you’re aggressive, you’re not ladylike—all of us share that experience” (Anderson, 2015, n.p.).
The evidence is in: as a society, we are not responding well to issues that affect the quality of life of young African Americans.