Trauma-informed juvenile justice systems

Trauma-informed juvenile justice systems adopt a trauma-informed approach to respond to trauma-related issues among youth in the juvenile justice system (NCTSN-Dierkhising 2013). Full system adoption requires a paradigm shift across juvenile justice processes and settings (Dierkhising 2016). Core elements of full system adoption include trauma screening and assessment, trauma-focused interventions, workforce education and training regarding childhood traumatic stress, and cross-system collaboration and support for strength-based relationships, family engagement, and environmental safety efforts (NCTSN-TI elements). Trauma-informed efforts vary by the specific model or intervention selected, and the extent to which core elements of full system adoption are implemented.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced post-traumatic stress

  • Improved well-being

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Improved family functioning

  • Increased social service efficiency

  • Reduced delinquent behavior

  • Improved mental health

Evidence of Effectiveness

Full system adoption of trauma-informed juvenile justice policies and practices is a suggested strategy to decrease traumatic stress and increase well-being for youth involved in juvenile justice systems (OJJDP-Marsh 2015). Available evidence suggests that such an approach increases staff capacity in juvenile residential facilities and family and community engagement in offenders’ support and is more likely to provide individualized services to offenders than the traditional justice system (, Randall 2013). A Pennsylvania-based evaluation of Sanctuary model, one model that supports trauma-informed organizational culture change, suggests such a model may also reduce problem behaviors and improve feelings of safety among adolescents in a girl’s juvenile justice residential facility ().

Specific trauma-focused psychosocial interventions for youth such as Trauma Affect Regulation: Guide for Education and Therapy (TARGET); Trauma and Grief Components Therapy for Adolescents (TGCTA); Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT); and Trauma-Adapted Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care (TA-MTFC) have been shown to decrease post-traumatic stress and related symptoms, depression, and delinquent behaviors in youth involved in juvenile justice systems (Ford 2016). However, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects of full system adoption of trauma-informed juvenile justice policies and practices.

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

Trauma-informed policy and practice approaches have become a focus in the juvenile justice system as understanding of youth experiencing traumatic stress in the system has grown (NCTSN-Dierkhising 2013). In 2015, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) developed a court trauma consultation protocol for juvenile and family courts and allied systems (OJJDP-Marsh 2015).

Implementation Resources

NCTSN-TI elements - National Center for Child Traumatic Stress (NCTSN). Essential elements of a trauma-informed juvenile justice system. Los Angeles, CA & Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress; 2016.

OJJDP-Pilnik 2012 - Pilnik L, Kendall JR. Identifying polyvictimization and trauma among court involved children and youth: A checklist and resource guide for attorneys and other court-appointed advocates. North Bethesda, MD: Safe Start Center, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice; 2012.

Sanctuary model - Community Works. The Sanctuary model.

TARGET - University of Connecticut Health Center. TARGET - Trauma affected regulation: Guide for education and therapy.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

OJJDP-Marsh 2015 - Marsh SC, Dierkhising CB, Decker KB, Rosiak J. Preparing for a trauma consultation in your juvenile and family court. Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP); 2015.

Ford 2013* - Ford JD, Blaustein ME. Systemic self-regulation: A framework for trauma-informed services in residential juvenile justice programs. Journal of Family Violence. 2013;28(7):665–677.

Randall 2013 - Randall M, Haskell L. Trauma-informed approaches to law: Why restorative justice must understand trauma and psychological coping. Dalhousie Law Journal. 2013;36(2):501–533.

Elwyn 2015* - Elwyn LJ, Esaki N, Smith CA. Safety at a girls' secure juvenile justice facility. Therapeutic Communities: The International Journal of Therapeutic Communities. 2015;36(4):209–218.

Ford 2016 - Ford JD, Kerig PK, Desai N, Feierman J. Psychosocial interventions for traumatized youth in the juvenile justice system: Research, evidence base, and clinical/legal challenges. OJJDP Journal of Juvenile Justice. 2016;5(1):31-49.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

OJJDP-Marsh 2015 - Marsh SC, Dierkhising CB, Decker KB, Rosiak J. Preparing for a trauma consultation in your juvenile and family court. Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP); 2015.

NCTSN-Dierkhising 2013 - Dierkhising CB, Ko S, Goldman JH. Trauma-informed juvenile justice roundtable: Current issues and new directions in creating trauma-informed juvenile justice systems. Los Angeles, CA & Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress (NCTSN); 2013.

Date Last Updated

Feb 6, 2017