Implementing Trauma-Informed Practice in Juvenile Justice Systems: What can Courts Learn from Child Welfare Interventions?

Abstract

Many youth entering juvenile court systems show manifestations of psychological trauma. Focusing on rural juvenile courts, systems with greatly underserved and under-researched populations, we assessed practices, barriers, and recommendations around trauma-informed practice, an evidence-based approach for addressing trauma and reducing delinquent behavior and recidivism. As part of a pilot trauma-informed practice initiative at four rural Michigan juvenile courts, semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 15 court staff, including probation officers, referees, judges, and on-site clinical therapists. Respondents expressed an ideological affinity for trauma-informed practice, describing growing inclinations to rely on referral-making around mental health treatment in lieu of traditional (punitive) sentencing. Key implementation barriers included limited access to local mental health resources, insufficient buy-in from K-12 schools, government, and police, and concerns over professional abilities/boundaries. Respondents recommended additional technical trainings on trauma-informed practice and cross-disciplinary education for clients’ families and external stakeholders.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2011-MU-FX-0009). We would like to extend our gratitude to the county courts and staff for contributing to, and participating in, the study. In addition, we wish to thank Erin Ochoa of the Center for Spatial Data Science at the University of Chicago.

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Correspondence to Jerel M. Ezell.

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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. Verbal consent was obtained.

Appendix

Appendix

Table 2 Selected Key Interview Questions
Table 3 Interviewee Types and Totals (n = 15) by Juvenile/Family Court Site

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Ezell, J.M., Richardson, M., Salari, S. et al. Implementing Trauma-Informed Practice in Juvenile Justice Systems: What can Courts Learn from Child Welfare Interventions?. Journ Child Adol Trauma 11, 507–519 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40653-018-0223-y

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Keywords

  • Delinquency
  • Intervention
  • Mental health
  • Qualitative
  • Recidivism
  • Rural