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Judges Stress the Importance of Considering Trauma in Juvenile Cases

Posted in 2016, Research & Policy Friday, 26 February 2016

On February 23rd the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges brought together a panel of judges to speak about the judge’s role in creating communities of healing. Judge Karen Adam shared about the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study, which looks at childhood trauma indicators. The ACE Study have been able to link the number of childhood traumas a person experiences to risky and rule-breaking behavior and serious health problems.  By acknowledging trauma and engaging in training around creating trauma-responsive court rooms, judges can better sever juveniles and their families.

Judge Deborah Schumacher spoke about the unique issues concerning children who receive special education services or have special needs and their interactions with the court. Judge Schumacher discussed the challenges of placing children who have come into contact with the juvenile justice system but also have specific needs that cannot necessarily be met in typical rehabilitative settings. Noting that students with special-needs associate schooling with failure, Schumacher stressed that punishing these children for frustration just further compounds the problem. Judges must think creatively to effectively ensure that children with special education are rehabilitated and can function in the community.

Judge Richard Blake spoke about his experience as a tribal court judge. Judge Blake has focused on raising the graduation rate at the local high school by ensuring that the students who he sees in his court are in school. Juveniles’ probation officers focus on student attendance, grades, and behavior. Judge Blake spoke with students about the reasons that they were not attending or succeeding in school, and he worked with the school to create a better environment for all students.

Judge Darlene Byrne stressed the importance of a, “do no harm” mindset in working with juveniles in the court. Judge Byrne approaches every case differently depending on the needs of the child. Cases with dually involved youth require unique services and rehabilitation in order to ensure that courts address rather than ignore underlying trauma. Without addressing a child’s trauma, he or she will struggle to successfully exit the justice system.

The panel all agreed that juvenile judges can and should be a leading force in reforming and rethinking the way that juveniles are treated in the justice system. The ACEs study connects the central role of trauma on both heath and behavior. Considering trauma as a cause of delinquent behavior must be a consideration of all of those who are involved with children in the justice system, including prosecutors, judges, defense, corrections officers, service providers, and families.