Findings from the study are published in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Adolescence. The study of 63 girls from a wide range of social and ethnic backgrounds from across the United States provided quantitative data that shows significant positive changes for girls in key areas of their development: their sense of belonging, their perception and acceptance of their own bodies, and their belief in their ability to accomplish meaningful tasks and goals in their lives.
“While this is the first study of the Girls Circle model, it is important because it provides evidence for the effectiveness of providing a female-responsive circle format that serves girls’ developmental needs,” said one of the study’s authors Dr. Gail Matthews, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Dominican University of California. Two replicate and extension studies with 89 girls in prevention and juvenile justice settings also found significant increases for girls in perceived body image, social connection, and self-efficacy.
Since 1994, the Sonoma, California-based Girls Circle Association has trained representatives from more than 500 school districts, youth centers, juvenile justice departments, social service agencies, and other youth- serving groups nationwide. Last year, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention rated Girls Circle a “promising approach.”
Girls Circle encourages girls to talk with and listen to other girls. A female facilitator leads the girls through a variety of themes, including being a girl, friendships, exclusion, body image, goals, sexuality, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, competition, and decision-making. A key component in the 10-week Girls Circle program is the council type format, with one group member speaking at a time, and with the expectation of attentive listening from other participants. The girls express themselves further through creative or focused activities such as role-playing, drama, journaling, poetry, drama, dance, drawing, collage, and clay.
The Dominican study was conducted by Dominican University of California students Stephanie Steese and Maya Dollette under the direction of Dr. William Phillips, assistant professor of psychology at Dominican, and Dr. Matthews. Girls Circle Association associate director Beth Hossfeld, MFT, and executive director Giovanna Taormina provided the researchers with access to Girls Circle participants.
Both before and after participating in a 10-week Girls’ Circle program, 63 girls from nine support groups (comprising 5 to 15 girls each) across the United States completed a battery of questionnaires assessing demographic variables, self-esteem (the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale), locus of control (The Nowicki-Strickland Personal Reaction Survey), self-efficacy (Schwarzer’s General Self-Efficacy Scale), body image satisfaction (The Body Parts Satisfaction Scale-Revised), and social support, (The Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support). The total sample was comprised of 17percent African American, 3 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, 51percent Caucasian, 21 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Native American, (and 5 percent Other). Each group participated in a 10-week curriculum. Groups met twice per week for either 90 or 120 minutes per session.
Statistical analyses revealed a significant increase in body image scores, perceived social support, and levels of self-efficacy. All three variables improved about 10 percent at the end of the 10-week curriculum. Prior to participating in Girls Circle, girls scored 107 on the body image scale, 58 on the perceived social support scale, and 27 on the self-efficacy scale. After participating in Girls Circle, girls scored 113 on the body image scale, 65 on the perceived social support scale, and 30 on the self-efficacy scale.
Girls Circle is unique in that it is a gender-specific model designed specifically for girls, said Hossfeld. Most other programs and treatment models are based on research with boys. Girls Circle is based upon the Relational-Cultural model of female psychology, which believes girls’ healthy development is based upon and stems from a core experience of positive and caring relationships with those in her family, peer, culture, and community.
The Dominican study, however, did not reveal significant changes in self-esteem or locus of control — the sense that one has control over one’s own experiences. Self-esteem scales rose from 22 pre-test to 23 post-test while locus of control rose from 12 pre-test to 13 post-test. Possible reasons for the absence of a self-esteem effect might include the question of whether 10 weeks is a sufficient time period to achieve measurable differences in self-esteem. In addition, the researchers believe that changes in one’s perception of control also are likely to take time.