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Ten Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know About Trauma and Delinquency

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2010
18 pages
This Technical Assistance Bulletin identifies and discusses 10 crucial concepts with which juvenile court judges should be familiar in order to assist traumatized youth in the juvenile justice system.
First, “A traumatic experience is an event that threatens someone’s life, safety, or well-being.” A key condition that makes these events traumatic is that they can overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope as they elicit intense feelings such as fear, terror, helplessness, hopelessness, and despair. Second, “Child traumatic stress can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” The degree to which a child is impacted by trauma is influenced by his/her temperament, the way the child interprets what has happened, his/her basic coping skills, the level of traumatic exposure, home and community environments, and the degree to which a child has access to strong and healthy support systems. Third, “Trauma impacts a child’s development and health throughout his or her life.” The most significant amount of brain growth occurs between birth and 2 years of age. Exposure to child abuse and neglect can restrict brain growth, especially in the areas of the brain that control learning and self-regulation (DeBellis, 1999). Fourth, “Complex trauma is associated with risk of delinquency.” Youth who experience complex trauma have been exposed to a series of traumatic events that include interpersonal abuse and violence, often perpetrated by those who are meant to protect them. Fifth, “Traumatic exposure, delinquency, and school failure are related.” Sixth, “Trauma assessment can reduce misdiagnosis, promote positive outcomes, and maximize resources.” Seventh, “There are mental health treatments that are effective in helping youth who are experiencing child traumatic stress.” Eighth, “There is a compelling need for effective family involvement.” Ninth, “Youth are resilient.” Tenth, “Next steps: The juvenile justice system needs to be trauma-informed at all levels.” A listing of Web site resources
Date Published: January 1, 2010