Juvenile & Child Welfare Law Section Council tours Zara Cisco Brough Center for Girls in Westborough

Issue March 2009 By Michael Edmond Donnelly

The Juvenile & Child Welfare Law Section Council held our monthly meeting on Feb. 9 at the Zara Cisco Brough Center for Girls, a facility for young women who are in the care of the commonwealth’s Department of Youth Services.

We chose to visit this Department of Youth Services program to emphasize the importance of effective treatment for young women in the commonwealth throughout the juvenile courts. What we’re trying to do is highlight this particular program as an important service to children, to get ourselves out into the community, and to focus attention on cutting-edge treatment for young women treated by the state and the importance of continuing that treatment during very difficult economic times.

The council met at the Westborough residential treatment center, which is named for Zara Cisco Brough, a dynamic Native American community activist. The center serves young women from across the commonwealth, many of whom have experienced and survived significant trauma in their young lives and who have been placed in the center by the Juvenile Courts of the commonwealth.

The council met at this location with the kind support of Commissioner Jane Tewksbury of the Department of Youth Services and Barbara Morton, the Worcester Regional Director of the Department of Youth Services. Both Tewksbury and Morton played crucial roles in the development of this innovative center for young women, including working with the center’s women architects, who were sensitive to the living needs of young women in state custody.

While this is a locked and secured facility, the planners and architects looked to the humanity of the young women who live in this center, incorporating special design features, including gardens where the young women grow herbs and learn composting techniques, private showers and a full regulation-size basketball court that the young women wanted. A visitor asked Morton what would be the one thing that she would wish to have to make her work with the young women more effective. She responded that the department has been working with the Anne E. Casey Foundation on the Juvenile Detention Initiative to access community-based, less-restrictive alternatives to detention for low-level and first-time offenders so they do not need to enter the state secure facilities where they will be exposed to higher risk offenders.

The council members toured the center, had dinner and conducted a regular business meeting before ending the day. To the future, the council hopes to build on this contact with the department to strengthen the quality of legal representation of young women and young men in the commonwealth.

Michael Edmond Donnelly is co-chair with Wendy Wolf of the Juvenile & Child Welfare Law Section Council. Donnelly is the director of the Masters in Public Policy program at Anna Maria College and professor of law at Western New England College School of Law.