Trauma-Informed: Dependency Court Personnel’s Understanding of Trauma and Perceptions of Court Policies, Practices, and Environment

  • Victoria A. Knoche
  • Alicia Summers
  • Monica K. Miller


The law and legal processes can affect the psychological and emotional well-being of the people involved. Individuals who are already traumatized can experience stress which triggers prior trauma through court policies, practices, and environment during involvement with the child abuse and neglect court system. However, some courts use trauma-informed policies, practices, and environments which are based on the notion of therapeutic jurisprudence. The purpose of this analysis was to determine if dependency court personnel in larger jurisdictions have differing understandings of trauma, and differing perceptions of court policies, practices, and environment than their counterparts from smaller jurisdictions. Results indicate that smaller jurisdiction personnel have a higher understanding of trauma, as well as perceive themselves to be more trauma-informed in the areas of policy, practice, and environment when compared to larger jurisdiction personnel. Implications are discussed and recommendations from a therapeutic jurisprudence framework are suggested.


Jurisdiction size Trauma-informed Therapeutic jurisprudence Child abuse and neglect court 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2000.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all patients for being included in the study.


  1. Annan, S. L. (2011). “It’s not just a job. This is where we live. This is our backyard”: The experiences of expert legal and advocate providers with sexually assaulted women in rural areas. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 17(2), 139–147. Scholar
  2. Buffington, K., Dierkhising, C. B., & Marsh, S. C. (2010). Ten things every juvenile court judge should know about trauma and delinquency. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 61(3), 13–23. Scholar
  3. Chapman, J., Ford, J. D., Albert, D., & Hawke, J. (2006). Traumatic stress: Exposure, identification, and intervention in correctional systems. Administration and Management of Correctional Health Care, 2.Google Scholar
  4. Child Welfare Information Gateway (2015). Developing a trauma-informed child welfare system. Retrieved from
  5. Child Welfare Information Gateway (2017). Child maltreatment 2015: Summary of key findings. Retrieved from
  6. Dierkhising, C. B., Ko, S. J., Woods-Jaeger, B., Briggs, E. C., Lee, R., & Pynoos, R. S. (2013). Trauma histories among justice-involved youth: Findings from the national child traumatic stress network. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 4, 1–12. Scholar
  7. Dobbin, S., Gatowski, S., Russell, J., & Summers, A. (2010). Judicial workload in Washington state dependency cases. Retrieved from
  8. Feld, B. C. (1991). Justice by geography: Urban, suburban, and rural variations in juvenile justice administration. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 82(1), 156–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Foy, D. W., Ritchie, I. K., & Conway, A. H. (2012). Trauma exposure, posttraumatic stress, and comorbidities in female adolescent offenders: Findings and implications from recent studies. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 3, 17247. Scholar
  10. Garland, A. F., Hough, R. L., McCabe, K., Yeh, M., Wood, P. A., & Aarons, G. A. (2001). Prevalence of psychiatric disorders in youths across five sectors of care. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 409–418. Scholar
  11. Kerig, P. K., Ward, R. M., Vanderzee, K. L., & Moeddel, M. A. (2009). Posttraumatic stress as a mediator of the relationship between trauma and mental health problems among juvenile delinquents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 1214–1225. Scholar
  12. Ko, S. J., & Sprague, C. (2007). Creating trauma-informed child-serving systems. NCTSN Service Systems Briefs v1 n1. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from:
  13. Ko, S. J., Ford, J. D., Kassam-Adams, N., Berkowitz, S. J., Wilson, C., Wong, M., Brymer, M. J., & Layne, C. M. (2008). Creating trauma-informed systems: Child welfare, education, first responders, health care, juvenile justice. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(4), 396–404. Scholar
  14. Lind, E. A., & Tyler, T. R. (1988). The social psychology of procedural justice. New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mahoney, B., Carlson, A., & Baehler, A. (2006). Strengthening rural courts: What should be done to improve court operations and enhance the quality of justice in rural America? Court Manager, 20(4), 11–16.Google Scholar
  16. Marsh, S. C., & Dierkhising, C. B. (2013). Toward a conceptual framework for trauma-informed practice in juvenile and family courts (pp. 19–20). Spring: Juvenile and Family Justice Today.Google Scholar
  17. Marsh, S. C., Summers, A., DeVault, A., & Villalobos, J. G. (2016). Lessons learned from developing a trauma consultation protocol for juvenile and family courts. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 67(3), 5–22. Scholar
  18. McCall-Hosenfeld, J. S., Mukherjee, S., & Lehman, E. B. (2014). The prevalence and correlates of lifetime psychiatric disorders and trauma exposures in urban and rural settings: Results from the national comorbidity survey replication. PLoS One, 9(11), 1–11. Scholar
  19. Miller, M. K., & Bornstein, B. H. (Eds.). (2013). Stress, trauma, and wellbeing in the legal system. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. National Center for State Courts (n.d.). Rural courts: Resource guide. Retrieved from
  21. National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Secondary Traumatic Stress Committee (2011). Secondary traumatic stress: A fact sheet for child-serving professionals. Los Angeles, CA and Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.Google Scholar
  22. Nugent-Borakove, E., Mahoney, B., & Whitcomb, D. (2011). Strengthening rural courts: Challenges and progress. Retrieved from
  23. Probst, J. C., Laditka, S. B., Moore, C. G., Harun, N., Powell, M. P., & Baxley, E. G. (2006). Rural-urban differences in depression prevalence: Implications for family medicine. Family Medicine, 38(9), 653–660.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Pruitt, L. R., & Showman, B. (2014). Law stretched thin: Access to justice in rural America. South Dakota Law Review, 59, 466–493.Google Scholar
  25. Pynoos, R. S., Steinberg, A. M., Schreiber, M. D., & Brymer, M. J. (2006). Children and families: A new framework for preparedness and response to danger, terrorism, and trauma. In L. A. Schein, H. I. Spitz, G. M. Burlingame, & P. R. Muskin (Eds.), Group approaches for the psychological effects of terrorist disasters (pp. 83–112). New York: Haworth Press.Google Scholar
  26. Ricketts, T. C., Johnson-Webb, K. D., & Randolph, R. K. (1999). Populations and places in rural America. In T. C. Ricketts III (Ed.), Rural health in the United States (pp. 7–24). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Schur, C., & Franco, S. (1999). Access to health care. In T. C. Ricketts III (Ed.), Rural health in the United States (pp. 25–37). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Shamblin, S., Graham, D., & Bianco, J. A. (2016). Creating trauma-informed schools for rural Appalachia: The partnerships program for enhancing resiliency, confidence and workforce development in early childhood education. School Mental Health, 8(1), 189–200. Scholar
  29. Smith, C. A., & Thornberry, T. P. (1995). The relationship between childhood maltreatment and adolescent involvement in delinquency. Washington: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Google Scholar
  30. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (2017, December 19). Understanding child trauma. Retrieved from
  31. Truman, J. L., & Morgan, R. E. (2016). Criminal victimization 2015. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.Google Scholar
  32. Weisz, V., Beal, S. J., & Wingrove, T. (2013). The legal system experiences of children, families, and professionals who work with them. In M. K. Miller & B. H. Bornstein (Eds.), Stress, trauma, and wellbeing in the legal system (pp. 63–88). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Wexler, D. B., & Winick, B. J. (1996). Law in a therapeutic key: Developments in therapeutic jurisprudence. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.Google Scholar
  34. Widom, C. S., & Maxfield, M. G. (1996). A prospective examination of risk for violence among abused and neglected children. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 794, 224–236. Scholar
  35. Wood, J., Foy, D. W., Layne, C., Pynoos, R., & James, C. B. (2002). An examination of the relationships between violence exposure, posttraumatic stress symptomatology, and delinquent activity: An “ecopathological” model of delinquent behavior among incarcerated adolescents. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 6, 127–147. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Interdisciplinary Social PsychologyUniversity of Nevada, RenoRenoUSA

Personalised recommendations