Learn why lifelong advocate for girls and young women, and leading philanthropist, Delores Barr Weaver supports the Policy Center.
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 and violence impact their behaviors. When we can understand this, we can provide alternatives to incarceration. We work to “See the girl” for her potential and not her present circumstance.
The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center engages communities, organizations and individuals through quality research, community organizing, advocacy, training and model programming 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 commitment programs far from their homes and subjected to horrific abuse. It was in one of those commitment programs 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 there. Eventually, Maria was arrested for truancy and stealing food, and was confined to a detention center. But, behind the destructive behavior, 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 The Leadership Council realized that in order to significantly improve the future for girls like Maria, they needed a more comprehensive, long term solution. They needed a solution that addressed the issue with a holistic approach and was, most importantly, girl centered. Inspired by the challenge, Delores Barr Weaver, a Leadership Council member, invited Dr. Ravoira to create a proposal for the type of organization that could activate this solution. A few months later, Dr. Ravoira presented the proposal to Mrs. Weaver, who generously agreed to fund an innovative center for girls that would creatively connect the critical elements of research, training, advocacy and programming.
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, and its programming, training and reform models have been replicated nationwide. Duval County alone has cut its incarceration rate of girls by 73% since 2013. Thousands of girls benefit from programming and advocacy, and professionals who work with girls are being trained in best practices. While Mrs. Weaver’s initial investment allowed the Policy Center to open its doors, the responsibility for its continued success relies on the community’s investment.