Roxbury Youthworks’ Gaining Independence for Tomorrow (GIFT) programme

Posted By: • September 23rd, 2015

Location: Boston, USA


Name: Katie Carlson

Email:  kcarlson(at)

Date of profile: July 2012

Intervention: GIFT Programme

Aim: To match Life Coaches – who provide intensive case management, mentoring and support – with girls identified as victims of/ or at risk of commercial sexual exploitation

Background and context

Roxbury Youthworks, Inc. (RYI) is a community-based non-profit organisation with a mission to help youth caught in cycles of poverty, victimisation, and violence to transition successfully to adulthood. RYI first started to help decrease recidivism among young men and women from the Roxbury District Court. Today the organisation serves youth up to 22 years of age in Boston’s juvenile justice or child welfare system with innovative supportive programmes.

The GIFT programme began in 2008 in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families and to date has supported over 175 young people.

GIFT programme

The programme is targeted at girls and young women between the ages of 12-22, identified as victims of/ or at risk of commercial sexual exploitation. Referrals come from the Boston region of the Department for Children and Families. Forty-eight girls can be supported at one time. GIFT employ six Life Coaches who each have a case load of eight girls and young women who may be living in different parts of the state. The Life Coaches meet with the girls wherever they are located.  The GIFT programme operates seven days a week.

Life Coaches meet with their clients individually at least twice a week, though this may increase depending on the needs of that young person. Support may come in the form of helping girls:

Develop social skills

Access education

Practice their interviewing techniques

Write resumes

Improve self-esteem and confidence

Explore safe and healthy relationships

Life Coaches are also available to accompany girls attending court appearances, doctor’s appointments and school meetings etc.

In addition to the individual meetings between Life Coaches and their clients, every Tuesday there is a group meeting at the programme’s office where girls living locally are brought together with the Life Coaches to explore different issues. For example, a group meeting may focus on exploring internet safety or making better choices. The programme also organises various recreational outings and therapeutic activities throughout the year. In the past this has included a therapeutic sports programme and a song writing and recording programme.  In the future girls will have the opportunity to work with professionals and express their experiences and voices though different mediums including poetry and music. The programme team are always trying new ways of working with the girls and are currently using a ‘healing circle’ as a mechanism to explore different issues related to trauma.

In addition to attending to the practical day-to-day needs of the girls, the Life Coaches also work through a curriculum with each individual which covers core modules including:

Commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC)

Healthy relationships


Life skills

The Life Coaches come from various backgrounds, some are survivors of various forms of abuse including sexual exploitation, parental abuse and neglect, sexual assault, domestic violence etc but this is not a mandatory requirement for the role. All coaches need to have relevant experience, which may come from previous work in the fields of counselling, social work or psychology, or have developed skills in different ways allowing them to work effectively with the girls.

The Life Coaches receive training from a specialist sexual exploitation local service ‘My Life My Choice’ and are also linked in to other relevant training such as motivational interviewing, substance abuse, trauma-informed practice, internet safety etc.


The GIFT Programme has been collecting data during the life of the programme however they have only recently been able to put a more systematic process in place. A database has been created and a number of assessment tools and surveys developed, aimed to measure certain changes in behaviour related to school attendance, pregnancy and various indicators of risk.

Non‒discrimination and Individual Response

All girls have to come through a referral from a social worker at the Department for Children and Families. If girls come to the attention of the service by other means, but do not have an open case with the Boston region of the Department for Children and Families, then a partner organisation in the city may take these cases on instead of the GIFT programme.

Each Life Coach works with girls on an individualised basis and there is no stipulated time frame. This means Life Coaches can continue working with girls until they no longer need their support.


Every year the team has a retreat where they take the time and space to reflect and consider what is working and what is not working. A number of the girls involved in the GIFT programme are invited to attend the retreat to put forward their point of view and experiences. The involvement of the girls has led to a number of changes for the programme. One example of this is the actual location of the programme, the girls were not happy with where the office was located and were not comfortable attending meetings. Based on this feedback within three months a new space had been found in which the girls felt more comfortable.

In addition to the yearly retreats, girls are involved in decision-making throughout their time with the programme. The topics for the weekly group sessions are chosen by the girls, as are the recreational activities.  They are also involved in the interview process when new Life Coaches are hired.


In addition to policies surrounding the hiring of new staff and the protection and confidentiality of young people, there are also other measures in place to physically protect the girls. The office has cameras in place and staff members also have good relationships with the local police if there are protection concerns.


Unlike some other services, there is no limit on how long the girls can be involved with GIFT, so in some cases girls have worked with their Life Coaches for three and a half years. The door is always open for girls if they need assistance at a later stage. In addition, part of the Life Coaches’ role is helping young women gain independence and create their own social support networks that will continue to support them once they have left the programme.

Core funding comes from the state however the girls are also able to access additional opportunities such as song writing and poetry programmes through individuals who volunteer their time to work with the girls.  The programme has also been fortunate enough to receive private donations and is always looking for new funding opportunities.


The GIFT Programme is relatively new and started as a pilot. It is expected that the programme may be replicated in the future.

Key factors of success:

Finding the right staff – the work is all consuming and 24/7

Taking care of and supporting staff – burnout is high in this type of role and it is critical that there is regular supervision and that supervisors are sensitive to, and aware of, secondary trauma and the need for staff to take time out

Consistency – girls need someone that will stick by them and be available

Having a non-judgemental attitude and approach

Flexibility – Life Coaches meet girls wherever they are physically and mentally


The success of the programme rests on having a great team in place

It’s important that the Life Coaches can work effectively together as peer-support for one another

Supporting staff is essential – each Life Coach has a weekly one hour supervision meeting with the Supervisor in addition to twice monthly group supervision with an external clinical consultant. Employees are also able to access their own therapy or treatment if required. This is incredibly important especially if staff are survivors of trauma as the work may ‘trigger’ past experiences

Working with adolescent girls is challenging in itself – it’s a tough population to work with

There is no manual, you have to learn as you go

It can be difficult for the coaches when they think the girls are in a good place and then they relapse – it’s important for them to realise that relapse is often part of the recovery process


Funding is always a challenge and there are always more opportunities and experiences that the girls could benefit from.

Awareness of sexual exploitation in the community, including with different professionals such as police and teachers, is still a gap that needs to be improved

Knowledge gaps in terms of what’s happening and the outcomes for the girls is something that is being addressed currently in the programme

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