Do you see what I see?: delinquent girls, families and juvenile justice



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This research used in-depth interviewing with fifteen girls on probation, their parents and their probation officers to explore how these three parties explain the girls’ delinquency; these three groups hold widely divergent definitions of the situation. Although the girls stressed their agency in their explanations, neither their parents nor their probation officers thought them principally culpable for their legal problems. The probation officers tended to blame the girls’ parents for their daughters’ misbehavior. The parents, on the other hand, were aware of our cultural tendency to blame parents for their children’s misdeeds, but overwhelmingly refused responsibility for their daughters’ misdeeds; instead, the parents offered other reasons for their daughters’ misconduct. These parties’ explanations of the girls’ runaway behavior contribute to the long-standing debate over how much of female offending is attributable to volition and how much is due to women’s victimization. The girls sometimes left home to gain independence; other times, they left to avoid volatile home situations. Yet, rather than running away to escape abuse, participants’ narratives revealed that the girls often had a hand in the turmoil and violence in their homes. This study also uncovered how girls and their parents experience juvenile justice including probation and located a constellation of tensions that exists among these parties. Four primary tensions decrease families’ collaboration and ultimately harm the success of girls within the juvenile system: role conflicts, disagreement over solutions, expectations that do no match actual experiences, and system practices that undermine parental authority and parental cooperation.