Putting a Developmental Approach Into Practice

Having developmental competence means understanding that children and adolescents’ perceptions and behaviors are influenced by biological and psychological factors related to their developmental stage. For adults working with young people, taking a developmental approach could lead to better outcomes for kids. In fact, the National Research Council recently published a report calling a developmental approach the key to reforming juvenile justice. And four recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions were grounded in an understanding of the developmental changes in adolescents’ brains — and state courts are following suit. Yet the question remains: How do we convince adults who work with youth to take a developmental approach?

Survey of Police Chiefs Shows Need for Police Training to Work with Youth

At a  training of Massachusetts MBTA Training Academy recruits in July, a police officer said to the group, “What I am telling you today we did not get when we were in the academy. Now you’ve got a leg up in dealing with kids by knowing this stuff.” The officer had been trained in a train-the-trainer capacity building effort by Strategies for Youth. “Knowing this stuff about kids makes working with them easier and less stressful and believe me, they can be stressful,” he told the recruits. The newly released findings of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) survey on juvenile justice and youth training needs suggest this officer is both right and unusual. Training in best practices for working with youth is helpful, but remains the exception to the rule across the country. The IACP’s survey, the “2011 Juvenile Justice Training Needs Assessment,” found that police chiefs want training but lack funding and agency resources to provide it to their officers.  They wanted their officers to have the skills to work with the increasing and challenging demands posed by youth.

Lisa Thurau: Why Police Need to Understand Trauma

The girl is maybe 15 years old? She is standing in the back of a building, or maybe it’s an alley way.  She has her arms wrapped around her body and her teeth are chattering.  When the officer approaches and tells her to leave the alley way she shakes her head and refuses.  The officer moves in closer and reiterates his order to leave. Suddenly the girl is lunging at him, screaming, “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me! Get away from me!”  She is pushing her hands out at him, then pointing her finger at the officer, ordering him to keep his distance.