In Detroit and its surrounding neighborhoods, the Alternatives For Girls Youth Peer Education program is helping girls and young women who are at-risk or survivors of human trafficking decrease their risk of homelessness, school truancy, drug use, and risky sexual activities by 70 – 90% by becoming peer educators. The program helps these young women develop the personal skills needed to live healthy, independent lives and teach these skills to other survivors.
Through the support of Basic Center Program funding, the young women, ages 14 to 18, participate in the Youth Peer Education program for one-year increments. To be selected for the program, the young women complete an application process and interview. Currently, there are five peer educators enrolled in the program. Eight to ten more young women will join the program by the end of January. Peer educators receive a small weekly stipend, but are not employees. This stipend is to offset their expenses so they do not need to get another job and can remain in the program.
After learning about anger management, healthy relationships, goal planning, or decision making, the peer educators design and conduct hour-long, weekly workshops on these topics for groups of eight to 15 trafficking survivors at a nearby safe harbor residential facility. The team is led by Alternatives For Girls’ youth outreach coordinator, a former peer educator.
“We find that youth facilitators are comparable to adult facilitators,” emphasized Deena Policicchio, director of outreach and education services. “At the same time, they can really reach the spirit and reality of these young women.”
Right now, said Policicchio, the girls at the safe harbor facility want more workshops on goal setting. They want to plan for college and know how to choose good friends once they are on their own. In response, the peer educators are designing goal-setting activities using SMART (specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, time-based) goals they learned at Alternatives For Girls.
As they learn about peer workshop facilitation, the peer educators receive case management and individualized services to support their goals. Each young woman has her own goals, such as doing better in school, building better relationships with family, or going to college. The program routinely checks-in and assesses each peer educator, with an eye on her personal growth and progress.
Over twenty years of successful programming makes Alternative for Girls unique. “There is a different component to having young people as facilitators. It enhances their opportunity to stop being at-risk youth.” said Policicchio.
Policicchio hopes to include more young women in the peer education program and conduct an evaluation of former participants. Right now, she knows the program is a success for both the peer educators and the peers taught. “The girls want us back. They say our workshops are their favorite part of their week, and they want more.”