The Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program has served thousands of girls with incarcerated moms over the past 27 years.
For over one hundred years, the Girl Scouts have provided a place to belong for millions of girls across the country — so this year, in honor of Girl Scout Day, we're celebrating Beyond Bars, a unique Girl Scout program that unites girls with their incarcerated mothers! Founded 27 years ago, the Beyond Bars program, which operates in 15 states and 17 Girl Scout councils, aims to strengthen the mother-daughter bond, minimize the trauma that can result from having a parent in prison, and reduce the likelihood of intergenerational incarceration. As Lolis Garcia-Baab of the Girl Scouts of Central Texas explains, “We learn so much from our parents, and they really are our closest role models. When you remove that support, the child is really anchorless... To a little girl, it's huge." This much-needed program depends on support from private donations, so we've also provided details about how you can donate to a Beyond Bars troop near you below.
Beyond Bars began in 1992 as a partnership between the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland and the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW). Judge Carol E. Smith had sentenced dozens of mothers during her time on the bench, and she worried about what would happen to the children of those mothers. She inquired about setting up a mother-child visitation program at the MCIW, where two-thirds of the women incarcerated were parents. The program started with a $15,000 demonstration grant from the National Institute of Justice, and meetings have been held at the MCIW every two weeks ever since. 400 girls have been part of Troop 7856, participating in all of the same activities that any Girl Scout troop would, including camping, field trips, and even selling cookies outside the prison building. "It's traditional Girl Scouts in a nontraditional setting," says the MCIW's current warden, Margaret Chippendale.
Each two-hour meeting begins with 15 minutes of free bonding time for the moms and daughters, a precious commodity when prison visits usually take place on opposite sides of a table. Then, the moms and daughters recite the Girl Scout Promise, and divide up by age to work on projects. "Many times you’ll step back and realize, 'Oh, my God. I’m in a prison,'" says Garcia-Baab. "You really feel you’re just in a troop meeting." For the girls, it's a rare chance to reconnect with their moms — and they don't let any of it go to waste. "Incarceration is tough — it’s tough for mom, but it’s really tough on children and the families that’ve been left behind," explains Chippendale. "It gives mom the opportunity to be a mother, but it gives the daughter the opportunity to have a mother."
The benefits of that contact are clear: a 2012 evaluation that polled members of the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program showed that 79% of girls in grades 4 to 8, and 86% of girls grade 9 and up, said they did better at school after joining the Girl Scouts. The girls also felt that the program encouraged them to stay out of trouble, develop healthier habits, and learn leadership skills. As Chippendale points out, the program has big benefits for the moms too. "The public tends to forget they're people first. As I will say, they're women who made bad decisions — doesn't make them bad people," she says. "These moms do not want to lose this opportunity, and they know if they get themselves in trouble, they are going to be removed from the program minimally for six months. So it truly is a benefit all the way around."
Those benefits helped the program grow, and at its peak, it served thousands of girls in 30 Girl Scout councils across the country. But when the program's federal funding ended in 2012, the challenges of paying for transportation to the prisons and other expenses proved too much for many councils. Today, 17 Beyond Bars programs remain active, and they are dependent on donations and support from their local councils. Nationally, more than 1.7 million children — half of them under the age of 10 — have a parent in prison, yet few programs provide the kind of bonding opportunities offered by the Girl Scouts' program. "There are a lot of reasons why this troop exists, but the primary reason is [to help] these girls succeed in life, especially with all the things stacked against them," says Garcia-Babb. "We provide them the support they need and keep that connection with their mom strong."
For the moms and daughters involved in the program, that connection is priceless. "When I got incarcerated, D'Amoni was 8 years old," recalls 32-year-old Kamisha Loftin. She regretted missing D'Amoni's milestones, and D'Amoni struggled too; her grades took a tumble as she dealt with her mom being away. But after joining Troop 7856, run by the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, the pair drew closer again, and D'Amoni started to bounce back. Now twelve years old, D'Amoni looks forward to every meeting, saying "I just love giving her a hug." For the moms involved, each meeting provides hope for a future — beyond the prison walls. "It’s wonderful just being able to be in her life, despite the circumstances," says 26-year-old Sapphire VanBuren, mom of 9-year-old Kuhmaria. "It’s the reason why I keep pushing in here, why I stay out of trouble. It’s all to get home to her."
How To Support a Girl Scouts Beyond Bars Program
Girl Scouts Beyond Bars programs serve many girls living in poverty and are only possible due to the support of private donations. If you'd like to support the important work of these troops across the country, we've collected a list of the regional councils offering the program. By donating, you can help make a huge difference to girls in your area!
- Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona: donate on their council's donation page and specify Beyond Bars in the notes.
- Girl Scouts Arizona Cactus-Pines: visit their council Beyond Bars program page.
- Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio (California): donate on their council's donation page and specify Beyond Bars in the "leave a comment" box.
- Girl Scouts of Central Indiana: donate on their council's donation page and specify Beyond Bars in the comments box.
- Girl Scouts of Central Maryland: visit their council Beyond Bars program page.
- Girl Scouts of Eastern Missouri: donate on their council's donation page and specify Beyond Bars in the comments box.
- Girl Scouts North Carolina Coastal Pines: donate on their council's donation page and specify Beyond Bars in the "Other comments or instructions" box.
- Girl Scouts of Ohio's Heartland: donate on their council's donation page and specify Beyond Bars in the message box.
- Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia: visit their council Beyond Bars program page.
- Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan: visit their council's donation page to learn how to donate.
- Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada: get in touch via their council's contact page to learn how to donate.
- Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma: visit their council's Ways to Give page to learn how to donate.
- Girl Scouts of Eastern Oregon and Southwest Washington: visit their council Beyond Bars program page.
- Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania: donate on their council's donation page and specify Beyond Bars in the comments box.
- Girl Scouts Heart of Pennsylvania: donate on their council's donation page and choose "Girl Scouts Beyond Bars" in the donation form.
- Girl Scouts of Central Texas: donate on their council's donation page and specify Beyond Bars in the "Comments & Other Instructions" box.
- Girl Scouts of Western Washington: visit their council's donation page to learn how to donate.
Recommended Books and Resources
Here Come the Girl Scouts!: The Amazing All-True Story of Juliette 'Daisy' Gordon Low and Her Great Adventure
Here Come the Girl Scouts!: The Amazing All-True Story of Juliette 'Daisy' Gordon Low and Her Great AdventureIllustrated by: Hadley HooperRecommended Age: 4 - 8
Juliette Gordon Low — also known as Daisy to her friends and family — defied attitudes about "proper" Victorian girls. Daisy loved the outdoors, and she knew that there were lots of other girls, just like her, who wanted to be pathfinders, pioneers, and adventurers. When she combined her daring spirit with a dedication to service, she came up with an idea that would change the lives of millions of girls: the Girl Scouts. This fascinating story about the founder of the Girl Scouts celebrates Low's spirit and vision, and shows how one hundred years later, her Scouts continue to have adventures, do good deeds, and make a difference!Illustrated by: Cathy MorrisonRecommended Age: 6 - 9
When Juliette Gordon Low was growing up in the post-Civil War South, everyone told her that girls couldn't do all the things that boys could — but she knew that wasn't true. She could climb to the top of of a tree to rescue a kitten, stand up against bullying schoolmates, ride her own horse, and more. So when she grew up, she founded a group that would encourage girls across the country to live up to their full potential: the Girl Scouts. This engaging telling is written in narrative, encouraging young readers to imagine themselves in Juliette's shoes.Recommended Age: 9 - 12
11-year-old Ruby desperately wants to keep a secret: her mother has been in prison for six years, and she's not getting out any time soon. When Margalit Tipps moves into her aunt's condo complex, Ruby finally feels like she might have a friend... maybe even one close enough that she can trust her with the truth. But then she learns that Margalit's family might be connected to the reason her mother is in prison in the first place, and now she's worried that she'll lose her only friendship too. This poignant and sensitive examination of life with an incarcerated parent provides important perspective in a world where that's an all-too-common experience.Manufacturer: Chronicle BooksRecommended Age: 8 and up
This bestselling guided journal helps moms and daughters establish fun, thought-provoking ways of communicating with each other! Meredith and Sophie Jacobs started sharing a journal when Sophie was nine, and they have applied their experiences to create this fun resource to help other mother-daughter pairs. With its thoughtful writing prompts and intergenerational advice woven throughout, this journal helps promote discussions about friends, school, crushes, and many of the other joys and difficulties faced growing up. The same authors have also created two follow-up volumes, Just Between Us: Sisters and Just Between Us: Grandmother and Granddaughter.Recommended Age: 9 - 12
Juliette Gordon Low saw some of the biggest changes in U.S. history, from the Civil War and Reconstruction to the end of World War I. And she had a lot of ideas about the roles that girls and women should play in her rapidly changing world! When she founded the Girl Scouts, she not only caused a stir by helping girls from all backgrounds to explore the outdoors, she also dared to encourage them to imagine themselves as professional women, and to be active citizens outside the home. She even included girls with disabilities in her groups. Written for the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts, this illustrated account of Low's life will astound young readers for whom her "radical" ideas are simply part of day to day life.Recommended Age: 10 - 13
Cammie O'Reilly lives above the prison where her father works, and inside the prison of her grief and anger: her mother died protecting her when she was a baby. But in the summer of 1959, thirteen-year-old Cammie will meet a child killer, a shoplifter, and a reformed arsonist, each of whom will play a role in Cammie's coming of age... and one of whom will help free her from the depression and guilt that keeps her locked away. This powerful story of a struggling but compassionate girl desperately seeking meaning and redemption is a complex and fascinating read.Recommended Age: Adults
As a girl, Juliette "Daisy" Gordon Low was in constant conflict between her adventurous heart and the expectation of being a proper Southern lady. When she married and moved to England, she found privileged life boring and aimless... until she met Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts, and decided to create a similar program for girls in America. The Girl Scouts of the USA would become a nation-wide organization that counts millions of American girls and women in its ranks, changing their lives forever. In this enthusiastic biography, author Stacy A. Cordery celebrates a daring, determined woman who refused to be held back.Manufacturer: YottoyRecommended Age: 3 - 8
You'll have a friend at your side with this cozy doll, the perfect companion for any Girl Scout! This soft 12" doll is officially licensed by the Girl Scouts, so she comes with her own sash and a set of 75 "badge" stickers you can use to customize her. Facts on the back of the box list Chloe's favorite Girl Scout activities and even her favorite kind of cookie. It's the perfect choice for any girl who loves scouting. For another version of the doll, check out Carly the Girl Scout.