Ben Chambers On What Juvenile Courts Should Know about Trauma and Delinquency

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It’s not a secret that many youth in juvenile court struggle with symptoms related to trauma, but it can be hard to remember in court, when faced with a defiant youth who’s been repeatedly delinquent.

So it’s great to see a new publication from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 10 Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know about Trauma and Delinquency.(Even though it seems to be aimed only at judges, it’s useful for all staff who work with or in juvenile court.)

Scoff at the idea that trauma could be related to breaking the law? Here’s a telling observation from the publication:

It does not go unnoticed by youth when their safety and well-being is not addressed but their delinquent behavior is. These kinds of paradoxes and frustrations can increase the likelihood that youth will respond defiantly and with hostility to court and other professionals who are in positions of authority. System professionals would benefit from recognizing that imposing only negative or punitive consequences will likely do little to change the youth’s patterns of aggression, rule breaking, and risky behaviors because such a response does not address the impact of traumatic stress on the child. By recognizing and addressing the role of trauma in the lives of youth, the court and other systems can become more effective in meeting the needs of the justice-involved youth and the needs of the community.

And, just to whet your appetite, here’s the first three things on the list:

1. A traumatic experience is an event that threatens someone’s life, safety, or well-being.

2. Child traumatic stress can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

3. Trauma impacts a child’s development and health throughout his or her life.

4. Complex trauma is associated with risk of delinquency.

For the rest of the list and lots of helpful detail, including the research behind the publication, download the full document and share it with your colleagues. Other resources on childhood traumatic stress are also available from the document’s other co-sponsors, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.


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