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Victimization and Trauma Experienced by Children and Youth: Implications for Legal Advocates

NCJ Number
Lisa Pilnik J.D.; Jessica R. Kendall J.D.
Date Published
September 2012
16 pages
After discussing the nature and impact of early childhood trauma on subsequent behavior, this paper draws implications for the justice system's processing of juvenile cases, with attention to policy reforms that promote "trauma-informed" legal practice.
Numerous studies have determined that a large number of children have witnessed or experienced violence in their homes or communities and that these experiences are linked to negative outcomes later in life. In some cases, exposure to violence results in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), whose symptoms can include strong reactions to reminders of the trauma or loss they experienced; avoiding places, people or other stimuli associated with past trauma; feeling detached or estranged from other people; difficulty in concentrating; difficulty in trusting or feeling secure with parents and other caregivers; and emotional disorders that may include depression and anxiety. Legal advocates, judges, and court staff have an important role to play in ensuring that children's mental health needs, including those related to trauma, are met. Juvenile case processing should include screening for past trauma and exposure to violence. Toward this end, this paper lists selected screening and assessment instruments. Several court jurisdictions and child welfare/juvenile justice programs are focusing on trauma using evidence-supported and promising practices for screening, assessment, and treatment. In most cases, the assessment and interventions discussed are used in the delinquency system only after a young person has been adjudicated. A major section of this paper identifies and discusses considerations related to the development of a trauma-informed legal practice. The paper concludes with recommendations for policy reforms that promote trauma-informed legal practice. Also included are evidence-supported and promising interventions developed for children and youth exposed to violence. Listings of resources and references