New Study: The “Adultification” of Black Girls

Posted July 27, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog newstudytheadultification 2017

Why are black girls treat­ed more harsh­ly by schools and the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem than white girls who behave the same way? A new study from the George­town Law Cen­ter on Pover­ty and Inequal­i­ty sug­gests a con­tribut­ing cause: the adul­ti­fi­ca­tion” of black girls.

Down­load the Report

The Casey-fund­ed report, Girl­hood Inter­rupt­ed: The Era­sure of Black Girls’ Child­hood, found that adults viewed black girls as less inno­cent and more adult-like than white girls of the same age, espe­cial­ly between 514 years old.” When com­pared with white girls, black girls were per­ceived as:

  • need­ing less nur­tur­ing, pro­tec­tion, sup­port and comfort;
  • being more inde­pen­dent; and
  • know­ing more about adult top­ics, includ­ing sex.

The impli­ca­tions of the report’s find­ing are far reach­ing, accord­ing to Rebec­ca Epstein, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the cen­ter. Sim­ply put, if author­i­ties in pub­lic sys­tems view black girls as less inno­cent, less need­ing of pro­tec­tion and gen­er­al­ly more like adults, it appears like­ly that they would also view black girls as more cul­pa­ble for their actions and, on that basis, pun­ish them more harsh­ly despite their sta­tus as children.”

The study builds on pre­vi­ous research, includ­ing stud­ies that found black boys are seen as old­er and more cul­pa­ble than their white peers. Accord­ing to the report:

Adul­ti­fi­ca­tion is a form of dehu­man­iza­tion, rob­bing black chil­dren of the very essence of what makes child­hood dis­tinct from all oth­er devel­op­men­tal peri­ods: inno­cence. Adul­ti­fi­ca­tion con­tributes to a false nar­ra­tive that black youths’ trans­gres­sions are inten­tion­al and mali­cious, instead of the result of imma­ture deci­sion mak­ing — a key char­ac­ter­is­tic of childhood.

To fur­ther inform pol­i­cy and prac­tice in child-serv­ing sys­tems, the report rec­om­mends addi­tion­al research to deter­mine the causal con­nec­tion between the adul­ti­fi­ca­tion of black girls and exist­ing dis­par­i­ties in neg­a­tive outcomes.

Girl­hood Inter­rupt­ed is fur­ther evi­dence that pub­lic sys­tems serv­ing chil­dren must be vig­i­lant in iden­ti­fy­ing, address­ing and reduc­ing inequities and com­mit­ted to assess­ing the effec­tive­ness of their strate­gies for chil­dren of col­or,” says Michael Lara­cy, Casey’s direc­tor of pol­i­cy reform and advocacy.

Read the study

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