In the Community

Girl Scouts reconnecting daughters with incarcerated mothers

A look inside a program focused on the mental health and well-being of girls with mothers who are currently incarcerated.

PHOENIX, Ariz. (STN) – The bond between a mother and a daughter becomes strained or broken when a mother is incarcerated.

Originally launched in Maryland in 1992, Girl Scouts Beyond Bars provides time, space and tools for girls between the ages of five and 17 to build and strengthen the bond between themselves and their incarcerated mothers.

“We bring their girls into the prison unit or the jail unit, and we essentially have a troop meeting right there,” said Jenny Sharbaugh, Senior Program Coordinator for Girl Scouts Arizona Cactus-Pine. “The point is for the family to maintain that special bond for the girls, and for the moms and daughters to learn life skills together, build memories, and share stories in a unique way.”

Through a partnership with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Girl Scouts Arizona Cactus-Pine operates Girl Scouts Beyond Bars at two correctional facilities in the Phoenix area—Estrella Jail since 1994 and Perryville Prison ten years later.

Women serving time can apply for the program, and program administrators will reach out to their daughters and their guardians to initiate the process of reconnecting.

Watch the video below to learn more about the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program:

“We want to alleviate the stress and trauma that the mom and her daughter have gone through separation,” Sharbaugh said. “In addition to that time with their family, they don’t have to be embarrassed about the circumstances there. They know they’re going to be accepted for who they are and they can just have fun.”

While the primary goal is to improve the mother-daughter relationship, a report issued by the Girl Scouts to the Department of Justice reveals that Girl Scouts Beyond Bars has successfully developed healthier behaviors and leadership skills for both the mothers and daughters in the program. It can also contribute to preventing a girl from following in her mother’s footsteps and ending up in the criminal justice system.

To achieve all this, Girl Scouts Arizona Cactus-Pine needs help.

“We need volunteers,” said Ciara Dixon, another Senior Program Coordinator for Girl Scouts Arizona Cactus-Pine. “We can only go as far as our capacity allows.”

Dixon mentions the challenge of seeing the girls excited and happy to see their moms when they arrive at the jail, only to become sad when it’s time to leave.

“You’ll feel stressors, you’ll feel exhaustion, you’ll feel all those things,” she said. “But doing that for something that is really worth it fills my cup.”

This sentiment is echoed by Sharbaugh.

“You feel such a strong sense of purpose working in the spaces that we’re in to make a difference every day. That’s the best part. And you get to be a part of it. You get to be a part of this creative group of people that just care so much. And we all care a lot about each other as well.”

For more information on how to apply to be a volunteer with Girl Scouts Arizona Cactus-Pine, click here.

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