Working with Clients who Experienced Trauma

As more research comes out about the effects of trauma, those working in the juvenile and criminal courts must become more educated about how to recognize folks who may have long-term impacts from traumatic events in their lives and have strategies for how to work with those clients.

Trauma-Informed Legal Advocacy: Practice Scenarios from the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health advocates an approach that:

  1. recognizes the pervasiveness of trauma;
  2. incorporates an understanding of its impacts on individuals and communities;
  3. minimizes retraumatization;
  4. supports healing and resiliency;
  5. addresses the root causes of violence;
  6. is self-reflective and relational (the relationship as the foundation of healing and justice work);
  7. takes a contextualized approach to understanding and responding to trauma.

The lengthy Trauma Handout Binder from the Child Abuse and Juvenile Justice Conference held by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services includes a Checklist and Resource Guide for Attorneys and Other Court-Appointed Advocates, plus many articles and resources.

For attorneys who are members of the American Bar Association (ABA), the ABA Child Law Practice has a six article series on a trauma-informed practice.  The Center on Children and the Law has a devoted group for Polyvictimization and Trauma-Informed Advocacy.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) offers the Think Trauma Toolkit and training for juvenile justice residential treatment providers to create a more trauma-informed setting, but is only offered to members of NCTSN.

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has published Ten Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know About Trauma and Delinquency by Kristine Buffington, Carly B. Dierkhising, and Shawn C. Marsh, which are:

  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 through his or her life.
  4. Complex trauma is associated with risk of delinquency.
  5. Traumatic exposure, delinquency, and school failure are related.
  6. Trauma assessments can reduce misdiagnosis, promote positive outcomes, and maximize resources.
  7. There are mental health treatments that are effective in helping youth who are experience child traumatic stress.
  8. There are compelling need for effective family involvement.
  9. Youth are resilient.
  10. Next steps: The juvenile justice system needs to be trauma-informed at all levels.
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