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Girls’ Circle

Ages 9-18

Rating: Level 3


Girls’ Circle is a structured support group that addresses the specialized needs of girls ages 9–18 by integrating relational–cultural theory (RCT), resiliency practices, and skills training into a specific format designed to increase positive connection, personal and collective strengths, and competence in girls. It aims to counteract social and interpersonal forces that impede girls’ growth and development and has been used since 1994 in a broad spectrum of settings with diverse female populations and programs.

The theoretical underpinning of the Girls’ Circle relies on RCT, which suggests that growth-fostering relationships are a central human necessity and that disconnections are the source of psychological problems. The theory views a girl’s connections with others as a central organizing feature in her psychological makeup. The quality of these connections determines her overall psychological health, self-image, and relationships. Within this theoretical framework, the Girls’ Circle model aims not only to reduce risk factors for delinquent behavior but also to increase protective factors for resiliency against difficult situations.

The program consists of a 10-week curriculum. Each week a group of girls of similar age and development meets with a facilitator for either 90- or 120-minute sessions. During this time, the girls take turns talking and listening to one another respectfully about their concerns and interests. They further express themselves through creative or directed activities such as role-playing, drama, journaling, poetry, drama, dance, drawing, collage, and clay. Gender-specific themes and topics are introduced that relate to the girls’ lives, such as body image, goals, sexuality, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, competition, decision-making, friendships, and trusting oneself. A key component in the model is the council-type format of one group member speaking at a time, with the expectation of attentive listening from other participants. This form of communication intends to increase empathy skills and mutual understanding among the whole group. The primary feature, rather than a structure marked by separateness and autonomy, is an increase of empathic responsiveness in the context of interpersonal mutuality.


Study 1 used a single-group quasi-experimental design with pretest–posttest measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the Girls’ Circle curriculum. Sixty-three girls ranging in age from 10 to 17 (mean age=13) were recruited to participate in nine separate Girls’ Circle support group programs from across the United States and Canada. Each group consisted of five to nine girls from various backgrounds. Fifty-one percent of the girls were white, 21 percent Hispanic, and 17 percent African (North) American. The remaining portion of girls consisted of several other racial groups. Nearly half (48 percent) of the girls resided in urban environments. Prior to the beginning of the class, the facilitators administered the pretest questionnaire packet containing the outcome measures described. The participants were given 45 minutes to fill out and complete the packet. Each packet included the following instruments: the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (to measure the perception of self-worth), the Nowicki–Strickland Personal Reaction Survey (to measure the extent to which people believe their lives are determined by external circumstances or their own behavior), the Schwarzer’s General Self-Efficacy Scale (to measure the participants’ attitudes regarding self-reliance), the Body Parts Satisfaction Scale—Revised (to measure the degree to which participants feel comfortable with their own bodies), and the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (to measure the participants’ perception of the role that friends, family, and peers play in their lives).

In 2005, two replicate and extension studies (Study 2 and Study 3) were implemented in 15 different U.S. cities. In one study, eight sites hosted circles for girls who have been involved in the juvenile justice system. An additional seven sites hosted circles for girls who are not court-involved. Participants were surveyed at the beginning and end of each 10-week cycle.

In 2007, Study 4 assessed 278 youths aged 10-18 from 15 national sites in 19 cities using a single group quasi-experimental design with pretest–posttest measures. All study participants were provided the Girls Circle program. The setting included schools, community sites, juvenile justice and residential settings.


Study 1 results revealed significant increases (compared with pretest scores) in posttest body image scores, perceived social support (from 58.29 to 65.06), and level of self-efficacy (from 27.42 to 30.55). In other words, the evaluation found evidence supporting the hypothesis that the Girls’ Circle curriculum 1) provides a positive impact on a girl’s sense of self-reliance or resiliency, 2) helps strengthen a girl’s physical self-image, and 3) promotes a girl’s sense of belonging and connectedness. No such improvement occurred for measures of self-esteem or locus of control. Nevertheless, the results provide quantitative data showing 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 actions and goals in their lives.

In the replicate/extension studies, 89 participating girls’ sets of pretest and posttest surveys were analyzed. Outcome data revealed significant gains in self-efficacy, body image, and perceived social support. Girls who have been involved in the juvenile justice system are more likely to experience gains in perceived social support than girls who have not been involved in the juvenile justice system.

Study 4 revealed a statistically significant improvement for girls in four long term outcomes: (1) self harming behavior; (2) alcohol use; (3) attachment to school; and (4) self-efficiency.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Early sexual involvement
  • Favorable attitudes toward drug use/Early onset of AOD use/Alcohol and/or drug use
  • Life stressors
  • Poor refusal skills
  • Teen parenthood


  • Child victimization and maltreatment
  • Family history of the problem behavior/Parent criminality
  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Pattern of high family conflict


  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school


  • Low community attachment


  • Association with delinquent and/or aggressive peers
  • Peer alcohol, tobacco, and/or other drug use
  • Peer rejection

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • High expectations
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Positive expectations / Optimism for the future
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family


  • Strong school motivation / Positive attitude toward school
  • Student bonding (attachment to teachers, belief, commitment)


  • Prosocial opportunities for participation / Availability of neighborhood resources
  • Safe environment / Low neighborhood crime


  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


Irvine, Angela. 2005. Girls’ Circle: Summary of Outcomes for Girls in the Juvenile Justice System. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Ceres Policy Research.

Dollette, Maya; Stephanie Steese, B. Hossfeld, R. Russell, Giovanna Taormina, G. Matthews, and W. Phillips. 2005. Understanding Girls’ Circle as an Intervention on Perceived Social Support, Body Image, Self-Efficacy, Locus of Control, and Self-Esteem: A National Multisetting Study of Changes in Adolescent Girls’ Perceived Connection, Self-Perception, and Body Image Utilizing The Girls’ Circle Model. San Rafael, Calif.: Dominican University of California.

Roa, Jessica; Angela Irvine and Karina Cervantez. 2007. Girls Circle National Research Project. Santa Cruz, Calif.: Ceres Policy Research.

Rough, Julia. 2005. “Understanding the Intervention of Girls’ Circle on Friendship and Self-Efficacy: A Replication and Extension.” Thesis submitted to Gail Matthews, Ph.D. San Rafael, Calif.: Dominican University of California.


Giovanna Taormina, Executive Director
Girls’ Circle Association
458 Christensen Lane
Cotati, CA 94931
Phone: (707) 794-9477
Fax: (707) 794-9938
Web site: