Back in 2007, more girls in Duval County, FL (population approximately 850,000) were being locked up than in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Tampa combined. Girls were being sent to commitment programs far from their homes and subjected to horrific abuse. When the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center opened in 2013, it infused new energy into the Justice for Girls Reform Movement and altered the trajectory of thousands of girls’ lives forever.
Today, the Policy Center now drives large-scale, research-based reform. The Policy Center relies on accessing and using timely and trustworthy data to advance their key bodies of work and ground their work in the lived experiences of girls, young women, and youth who identify as female. However, the process of accessing, extracting, transforming, and assessing this crucial data is a deeply resource-intensive, bespoke process.
We partnered with the Policy Center to help them make sense of all the data streams at their fingertips and created easy-to-use visualizations, removing a key resourcing bottleneck and helping them to serve more individuals and ensure that all Floridians “See the Girl”. We spoke with the Policy Center about our work together and how data better enables impact. Check it out below!
What inspires the Policy Center to ensure that Floridians “See the Girl” and drive large-scale, research-based reform?
“See me for who I am, not for who you think I am. See me for who I am and who I can become.”
That was the simple request of 14 year old Maria, a girl whose experience in foster care led to confinement in a youth commitment program. Her story and the countless others like it are why the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center exists. Our goal is to ensure that people understand how the lived experiences of girls and their exposure to trauma impacts their behaviors and choices. When communities can understand this, better alternatives to incarceration can be provided.
We work to “See the Girl” for her potential and not her present circumstance. The Policy Center engages communities, organizations, and individuals through quality research, community organizing, advocacy, training, and direct services to advance the rights of girls, young women, and youth who identify as female, especially those impacted by the justice system. The idea for the Policy Center formed in 2007, when the Justice for Girls Leadership Council launched an initiative to address the alarming incarceration rates of girls in Duval County, Florida. More girls in Duval County were being locked up than in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Tampa, combined. Girls were being sent to lock up far from their homes and subjected to horrific abuse. It was in one of those facilities that Dr. Lawanda Ravoira met Maria, then just 14 years old. Maria’s words to Dr. Ravoira became the rallying cry of the Justice for Girls Movement.
When Maria was just 7 years old, authorities removed her from an abusive family and placed her in foster care. Soon after, she started running away because she felt like a stranger in her foster home. Eventually, Maria was arrested for truancy and stealing food, and was confined to lock up. But, behind these behaviors, Maria was still just a 14 year old girl who loved math and poetry with dreams of going to college. As she slipped deeper into the justice system, seemingly invisible and forgotten, her sole desire was for someone, anyone, to see her as a young girl with the potential for a better and bright future, despite her circumstances. Dr. Ravoira and a group of committed community leaders realized they needed a solution that addressed the issue with a holistic approach and was, most importantly, girl-centered.
When the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center opened in 2013, it infused new energy into the Justice for Girls Reform Movement and altered the trajectory of thousands of girls’ lives forever. The Policy Center now drives large-scale, research-based reform. Direct services, training, and reform models have been replicated nationwide. Thousands of girls benefit from programming and advocacy, and professionals who work with girls are being trained in best practices. Our cutting-edge research is key to identifying, tracking, and addressing justice system trends and failures and driving research-based reform.
Since first partnering with DataKind in 2021 on our Florida-focused DataDive® event, has the Policy Center’s priorities shifted? What accomplishments are you most proud of to date?
The foundation of the Policy Center’s work and research values have remained since the establishment in 2013. Our vision is to create communities where girls are safe, respected, valued, and equal partners in their futures. Our work is designed to change the way communities respond to girls and improve the lives and wellbeing of girls. These values and goals will always be the driving force behind our research, advocacy, training, and programming. In order for research to be cutting-edge, the techniques, equipment, platforms, and ideas must be progressive and continue to advance.
The Policy Center has produced 27 original research publications with the System Reform Model being featured in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty & Law. The Policy Center’s publications, training, and programs have been recognized both locally and statewide. Businesses in the city of Jacksonville have stood in solidarity with the Policy Center by recognizing See the Girl Day on September 13th. Many buildings downtown display purple and green lights to spread our message of girl-centered practices and training that ensures the community sees girls as they are and what they can become. We’ve also had the pleasure of conducting research with several Florida universities.
When the Policy Center first engaged with DataKind, we began creating Tableau dashboards from statewide juvenile justice, delinquency, and poverty data. The dashboards are interactive, informative, and appealing which fully align with our goal of using the power of data to inform change. Partnering with DataKind has helped us to continue making headway in girl-centered research and reform, with the creation of seamless and easily understood visualizations for our report, investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of girls in Florida.
As the Policy Center looks to the future, what’s the thinking around the role of data science to support your mission? Where do you see the opportunity and potential? Where do you hold caution?
Research at the Policy Center relies largely on using data for good. Programs like Tableau, SPSS, and SAS are constantly putting out exciting updates to improve data security, storage, and visualizations. We’re adamant to keep our research department up to date on the most recent advancements, ensuring smooth and efficient processes when analyzing data. Our hope is that technological advancements also help to improve the data we receive, and we see potential for the possibility of increased access to statewide data that’s comprehensive and consistent.
While we’ll continue further investigations into the wellbeing of girls, implement community frameworks for systems change, and expand the reach of our programs; we also hold caution to ensure the voices of girls are not lost. The world of data can be used to highlight issues that affect the health and safety of young girls, but only if we continue to listen. Through data, we’ll continue to show the unique challenges girls face and the system failures that harm them. Through data, we’ll continue to See the Girl, and uplift the voices of girls represented through insightful and impactful data.
From your experience, what does a social impact organization need to have in place in order to be able to successfully engage in using Data for Good?
Data is more than numbers and percentages, especially the data social impact organizations work with. Each row in the datasets we analyze represents a girl that has their own individual story. It is essential to remember that as the reason we do the work. Keeping the individuals that are in the communities we serve at the center makes it easy to adhere to essential research practices. Ethical guidelines must be in place and understood by all staff that will have access to data. There should also be processes in place that address data security and confidentiality. Additionally, we find it very important to include multiple layers of vetting to check our analyses and verify accuracy.
Social impact organizations often play the role of informing the public and advocating for policy change. This is integral to eliminating injustices in our society, but we must also make sure that we are not causing any harm with our practices.
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