Mi Hermana’s Keeper Toolkit: Uplifting Latina Voice

Latina youth who are associated with the j­­­­­­­uvenile justice system are high risk for trauma compared to those who are non-system involved. Therefore, with the percentage of Latina youth on the rise nationally and an increasing number of those who are system-involved, attention must be devoted to understanding their experiences and addressing their needs. Latina youth serve as our future workforce, educators, and leaders and supporting their success is imperative.

Mi Hermana’s Keeper (MHK) Toolkit is the result of a research study of Southwest Key Program’s Family Keys Program, an early prevention and intervention model designed to keep status offenders from becoming formally involved with the juvenile justice system. We listened to the voices of Latina youth, their caregivers, and stakeholders to better understand the lived experiences of Latina youth involved in or at-risk of involvement in the juvenile justice system.

The research aimed to improve community-based services and effect change amid this linchpin generation.

The MHK Toolkit offers nine recommendations to improve services for Latina youth, each supplemented with concrete action steps that can help any service provider, policymaker, researcher, or stakeholder implement the recommendations into her/his work both on the programmatic and systemic levels.

Program-Level Recommendations

Provide services that are respectful and reflective of shared and individual cultural heritage.

Caregivers and youth sometimes have varying ideas of the importance of upholding Latina culture. Therefore, both positive and negative associations of the culture exist. Yet, providing services that are culturally based can support Latina youth in their awareness and understanding of their own ethnic identity while also supporting the wishes of caregivers and stakeholders who talked about the preservation and protection of the culture. Some ideas include speaking to families in their preferred language, learning about the family’s cultural values and discussing those values in interactions.

Provide services that value respeto (respect) and teach respectful practices

Latina youth were adamant about their desire to have a voice and to be respected. Meanwhile, caregivers spoke about the need for respect to be a reciprocal action between the Latina youth and service providers, caregivers, and stakeholders. These respectful practices can be honored through the implementation of traditional Latina cultural values such as familismo, personalismo, respeto, and espiritualismo. For example, personalismo places a great emphasis on personal relationships. So taking extra steps to build trust and rapport with Latinas by accepting a glass of water during a home visit, for instance, can go a long way.

Provide services that utilize a relational approach

Services that uphold relational approaches and support a sense of belonging, safety, and empowerment are vital to effectively serving our Latina youth. Relational-cultural theory suggests that both racial and cultural identities are key parts of relationships and should be valued. Therefore, upholding cultural values such as empatía and simpatía can foster harmonious relationships and show empathy, creating a space for Latinas to feel heard and understood.

Provide case management services for the entire family

Both Latina youth and their caregivers stressed the value in caring about their whole family through program services and the referrals to resources. Caregivers and other family members are often struggling with many challenges of their own, so addressing the needs of a client without the needs of the family can be unproductive. Incorporating the cultural aspect of showing concern for the whole family including extended relatives (familismo) is also critical in providing services to our Latina youth. Providing for the needs of the whole family, when possible, can build rapport and trust between the client(s) and service provider.

Support cross-generational services to instill values

Caregivers and stakeholders expressed concern that Latina youth are not effectively preserving Latino cultural values and seem disconnected from previous generations. This idea of acculturation was of concern to caregivers especially, so offering support to Latina youth and their families by facilitating two-generational approaches for engaging the family is key. Also, when possible, service providers should be intentional about creating opportunities for Latina youth to interact with Latino elders through projects, programming, and group activities.

Develop caregiver-specific services

Caregivers were very transparent about the obstacles in their lives and the need for assistance in navigating some of the systems that are meant to help them. Many Latinas and their caregivers have histories of trauma, so a trauma-informed care framework is necessary when serving caregivers as well. Service providers can encourage caregiver engagement in activities and events and/or offer safe spaces (in Spanish, when possible) for caregivers to express their own concerns. Home visits can also be an effective way to reach caregivers, who may face difficulties attending events outside of their own neighborhood. Ultimately, serving caregivers and families is another way to indirectly serve the Latina youth.

System-Level Recommendations

Build culturally responsive school practices

Latina youth, their caregivers, and stakeholders emphasized the need for changes within the schools and a desire for culturally responsive education. Some ways culture could be incorporated into the classroom include: expressing an interest in the Latina’s personal life, supporting the use of Spanish in the classroom as well as through communication with caregivers, and providing translation services, when necessary. Latinas felt that the curriculum wasn’t relatable and that incorporating some aspects of Latina’s daily lives into lesson plans is important.

Support effective systems advocacy

State and city level change is needed to better serve systems involved Latinas. The need for more prevention and early intervention strategies is vital. Latinas deserve equitable distribution of resources and want to participate in systems that make them feel valued. More gender-specific services are needed, particularly to address those with high levels of trauma, which is much too common among system-involved Latina youth. Latina youth request to participate in systems that are welcoming and that provide a supportive culture. Therefore Latinas need advocates who make a space for them to have a voice while mobilizing around priority issues to create change.

Promote the dismantling of systemic racism and bias

Although Latina youth and caregivers had different views on being treated fairly, it is clear that Latina youth are often stereotyped and disproportionately disciplined and punished in schools. Latinas expressed their frustration with being treated differently and felt that they faced frequent discrimination, often being perceived as “bad.” Service providers can develop interventions to reduce implicit racial bias by hosting consciousness-raising workshops and using anti-discriminatory practices as well as taking action to fight injustices against Latina youth universally.

With the rapid growth among Latinos in the U.S., the needs of Latina youth will continue to increase. Now is the time to address the needs of our Latina youth.

This summary represents only a small portion of the findings from our research on system-involved Latina youth, and there are upcoming opportunities for you to learn more. For more information on the research design as well as detailed descriptions and corresponding action steps with resources, please visit the full MHK Toolkit.

DeAna Swan is the research and evaluation specialist at Southwest Key Programs

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