Some Girl Scouts Spend Mother's Day In Jail with Moms

This May, as most girls around the country wake up to give their mothers homemade Mother's Day gifts, many will travel to prisons to do so, because their moms are in jail. Some 500 girls are in the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program and visit their moms in correctional facilities, prisons, detention centers, and group homes to share laughter and tears over hugs and kisses.

Photo of a Girl Scout helping her mother with the Girl Scout Promise and Law.A Girl Scout helps her incarcerated mother with the Girl Scout Promise and Law.Their mothers are dressed in prison garb; the girls are dressed in Girl Scout T-shirts. For these girls, ages 5-17, Mother's Day is just another day they won't eat dinner with or be tucked into bed by their moms. These girls are members of Girl Scouts Beyond Bars (GSBB), a national program that helps more than 500 girls annually establish and maintain healthy relationships with their incarcerated mothers.

Meetings are typical, like any other Girl Scout troop meeting, but take place in a unique setting. Unlike other Girl Scout get-togethers, these meetings can bring tears when mothers and daughters separate and the girls leave the facility without their mothers. Usually twice each month, girls are transported by bus to the facility in which their mothers reside, and go through tight security and identification checks to reunite with their mothers.

Photo of a mother and daughter with arms around each other.Mother and daughter, members of Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, make the best of the short time they have together."Studies show that children with incarcerated parents are four to six times more likely than their peers to become incarcerated. They are also more likely to experience anxiety, depression, attention disorders, truancy, and teen pregnancy," said Sharon Woods-Hussey, senior vice president, Girl Scouts of the USA. "To help prevent this, Girl Scouts Beyond Bars gives girls the opportunity to increase their self-esteem, build character, increase self-confidence, and grow personally in spite of their unique backgrounds."

Girl Scouts and the Department of Justice initiated the first and only mother-daughter prison visitation program in 1992, and for more than 10 years has helped thousands of girls re-establish parental bonds and gain skills that may in fact reduce criminal relapses. Over the past few years, politicians such as Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) have secured more than $3 million in government funding to help support GSBB. This, coupled with corporate and private donations from companies including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Bissell Foundation, as well as from local Junior leagues, businesses, women's groups, and public health organizations, has enabled local Girl Scout offices in 29 states to coordinate mother-daughter reunions.

A Picture-Perfect Day for Girls, Moms in New Jersey

On Mother's Day, Girl Scouts in New Jersey will visit their moms at The Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, the only state prison in New Jersey. After warm embraces in the gymnasium, the group will make paper picture frames, and take Polaroid photos of each other. They'll then enjoy a special snack—complete with decorative lunch bags, napkins, and cookies—which has been prepared by another Girl Scout troop for them.

Begun in New Jersey in 1995, the program has grown from 12 participants to upwards of 125 girls annually, depending upon the incarceration and release of mothers. During most meetings, girls and their mothers participate in community service projects, such as making care packages for the homeless, cards for veterans, and candy packs for senior citizens. The prison offers participation in GSBB as a privilege for good behavior and is highly sought after by the inmates.

Outside the facility, monthly, more traditional get-togethers are held for girls. They earn Girl Scout badges, play games, sing songs, play sports, and take part in science workshops. Often, experts such as Olympian Joetta Clark, local yoga specialists, musicians, and inspirational guest speakers are brought into the prison or community meetings to teach and inspire girls. About half of the community group's members are girls who continue to find support from the program, but whose mothers are no longer in prison. This year, girls ages 11-13 are working on Media Smart Youth, which encourages girls to evaluate the media and its influence on body image and self-esteem. Girls ages 14-17 concentrate on community service projects, learn about various careers, and discuss college issues.

Girl Scouts Become Jewelry Designers for Mother's Day

In Arizona, some 30 Girl Scouts, ages 5-10, will not have the chance to meet with their mothers this Mother's Day, but will make jewelry for them and their guardians—which they've been designing for the past two months.

As members of Arizona-based GSBB, mothers and daughters meet twice each month—either together or separately. Since one of the program goals is to develop leadership skills in both the girls and mothers, mothers are encouraged to take the lead in conducting the meetings. The group recites the Girl Scout Promise and Law, and like some other Girl Scout troop meetings, girls and their mothers make soap, candles, and jewelry, discuss healthy hygiene and nutrition habits, and participate in Girl Scout badge activities.

Mothers participate in a GSBB-sponsored two-hour parenting class, and some receive college credit, administered through a local college. The girls are part of a community troop where they participate in neighborhood activities and council events. This year, 20 volunteers from Arizona State University's Gamma Alpha Omega Sorority have adopted GSBB as a community service project, and take turns participating in the community troop meetings.

Reports show that approximately 75% of incarcerated women are mothers with at least two children. In most cases, incarcerated mothers were the primary caregivers for their children prior to their confinement. Many of these mothers will resume their daily parenting duties upon their release, and remain part of Girl Scouting with their daughters.

For more information on Girl Scouts Beyond Bars, call (800) GSUSA 4 U.