‘Girls can be angry.’ New council working to help Bibb County girls stay out of trouble

An effort to address the needs of at-risk girls in Macon and put them on the right path is modeling itself after a successful program in Florida.

The recently formed Girls Coordinating Council launched in part by the Bibb County District Attorney’s office aims to introduce counseling and other hands-on approaches.

The Council, according to organizers, is a joint endeavor between the Macon-Bibb County School-Justice Partnership, the Pace Center for Girls in Florida and others “to collaborate with a focus on reforming and strengthening the local system of care for girls in need.”

Julia Daniely, principal of Macon alternative school SOAR Academy, said that some aspects of her students’ lives that may be helped by the program include matters of conflict-resolution and ways to avoid lashing out at others in emotional outbursts.

According to Pace, the most common offense among youths in Bibb schools last year was affray.

“Some of our girls can be angry,” Daniely said. “They’re dealing with self-esteem issues, self-confidence issues. ... They tend to argue and cannot handle conflict well.”

Council organizers say that since the mid-1980s, Pace “has kept more than 40,000 girls from having further involvement in the juvenile justice system.”

“What we try to do is work with girls ... we look for the thing that is good about the girl,” Neil Skene, vice president of strategic planning and policy for Pace, said. “What is it that they like to do? What is it that they can do? ... And try to build confidence around what they have that’s good as opposed to the labels and problems that others characterize them with.”

Skene said the Council here will follow in the footsteps of one in Broward County, Florida, and “basically look at data from different organizations ... and talk about what’s missing: Where are girls falling through the cracks? Where are there sort of needs that seem urgent but aren’t being met?”

He said Pace wanted to expand to Macon because of the need for such intervention here, where the poverty rate is 37% and, according to Pace, of girls in sixth through 12th grade in Bibb County, 32% report having thought about dropping out of school on at least one occasion in the past year. About about 8% of girls in that school group reported having attempted suicide in the same span.

So far the council has one licensed counselor in place and there are plans to hire another to work with girls in area schools and the youth-detention center.

“So many of these kids,” Skene said, “I know from working in the child-welfare system, they’ve sort of just lost hope. And when you don’t have any hope, you really don’t have anything. You’ll take risks. You’ll take whatever risk is in front of you because there’s not much to lose. ... Why not shoplift this thing? Why not shoot this guy? Whatever it might be.”

Skene added that it isn’t enough to be tough on crime, but rather that society needs to get tough on its causes.

“It’s not easy,” Skene said. “It’s not like we’re going to send you to your room until you start behaving. We try to ... build confidence and hope. And from that you can really start to change the path that a girl is on.”

District Attorney David Cooke at a news conference announcing the Council said, “Juvenile crime has been a topic of great community concern for quite some time. Despite using every prosecutorial resource available from pre-trial diversion to commitment, we can’t prosecute our way out of this. And if we don’t intervene in children’s lives now, they’ll become future criminal defendants, victims, or both.”

For more information about the Council and how to join in, call Kamitra Stanley at 478-444-5961.

Joe Kovac Jr. covers crime and courts for The Telegraph with an eye for human-interest stories. A Warner Robins native, he joined the paper in 1991 after graduating from the University of Georgia.