How can the juvenile justice system — and other agencies that serve children — build post-traumatic resilience among youth? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest foundation dedicated to improving the health of all Americans, is exploring how it can contribute to ending the culture of violence and trauma that is an obstacle to good health for too many vulnerable Americans. We cannot call ourselves a healthy nation if we continue to be a violent one.
A new report from the Juvenile Law Center, commissioned by RWJF, makes it clear that in addition to providing trauma-informed services, we need to be mindful of how we use our knowledge of a child’s trauma to help and not to hurt.
The report, “Trauma and Resilience: A New Look at Legal Advocacy for Youth in the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems,” provides a vital look at how system involvement — in the juvenile justice or child welfare system — can cause trauma, or exacerbate underlying trauma caused by sexual abuse, violence, the death of a loved one, witnessing violence and other experiences. The report sets forth ways to support resilience in youth, and also recognizes the risk of lifelong damage from unaddressed trauma. It includes both strategies for individual advocates and policy recommendations for changing the system.
How You Can Contribute
As we think about supporting trauma-informed services — in schools, clinical settings, communities and elsewhere — we have a number of questions we are exploring:
- When, in our efforts to help children, is it appropriate to surface knowledge of trauma and when is it not?
- How do we connect children and families to systems and ensure that they are supported rather than put at risk of further trauma?
- Children from different socioeconomic backgrounds are exposed to violence and trauma, but there are disparities in who receives appropriate care. How do we ensure that high-quality resources are reaching all children and families who need them?
- How do we build and expand systems that recognize a child is not defined solely by the trauma he or she has experienced, but provide the proactive approaches that strengthen and build resilience?
You can help us to answer these questions by sharing the names of people and organizations that you believe are doing effective and/or innovative trauma-informed work, by sharing research you are conducting or perhaps just reading. You can also share your own ideas. Share in the comment section below, or join the conversation taking place on the RWJF Forum.
Jennifer Ng’andu is a program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.