Well-Being as a Common Frame for Practice and Policy for Young People Who Have Experienced Crime and Victimization

Written by Lyman Legters, Casey Family Programs & Clare Anderson, Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

It is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The Vision 21: Linking Systems of Care for Children and Youth Project (Linking Systems of Care), funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and supported by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges expands the vision and impact of the crime victim assistance field. Initiated in 2013, the Linking Systems of Care project engages a broad spectrum of service providers, advocates, criminal justice professionals, allied practitioners, and policymakers to address the needs of children and youth who have experienced crime and victimization.

Every day during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, we are bringing to the fore the particular needs of these children and youth, and sharing solutions and ideas from the network of national experts and state leaders who are part of the Linking Systems of Care network.

Today, we start with proposing a common frame for promoting the well-being of children and youth who have experienced crime and victimization. To truly improve the lives of young people, youth-serving system leaders, policymakers, and public and private funders need a common framework to guide initiatives aimed at supporting the healthy development of young people across a broad set of well-being domains.

Throughout early childhood and adolescence, young people experience distinct developmental milestones that offer both promise and risk. Research shows that maltreatment, victimization, and exposure to trauma can have profound and long-term effects on brain development. However, it is also clear the brain continues to develop throughout adolescence and emerging adulthood, providing critical windows of opportunity to build resilience and develop new skills, habits, and attitudes.

Continuing with business as usual will not yield better results. Narrow and uncoordinated approaches within and across systems have historically not succeeded in significantly improving outcomes for the nation’s most vulnerable young people. Linking Systems of Care is learning what is needed to bring healthcare, child welfare, youth justice and other systems together at a statewide level to coordinate and align efforts to ensure a timely and seamless response to young victims, their families and caregivers, no matter the system of entry. By coordinating prevention and intervention services, and using a common framework for well-being, states will be better positioned to promote healing and recovery for children and youth.

In recent years, there has been growing interest on the part of policymakers, funders, and practitio­ners to use a common framework to guide investments and support improved well-being outcomes for vulnerable young people, these include the Youth in Transition Funders Group framework (, federal Administration on Children, Youth and Families’ framework on social and emotional well-being (, and current efforts underway within the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention.

Comprehensive attention to the holistic and lifelong well-being needs of children, youth and young adults is everybody’s job. Systems serving children, youth, and families have a particular focus, mission, and realm of responsibility, whether that is educating young people, sup­porting their physical or mental health, maintaining young people’s safety, or ensuring community safety. For vulnerable youth who experience trauma, abuse, neglect, or behavioral difficulties, the number of systems each youth and family must interface with explodes exponentially. And with the introduction of each new system, hurdles and barriers to well-being arise. (“Investing to Improve the Well-Being of Vulnerable Youth and Young Adults” Langford, Badeau, Legters. Youth Transition Funders Group 2015)

Every system serving children, youth and young adults must fully embrace its critical role and responsibility in supporting comprehensive, holistic, and lifelong well-being. Tthis requires partnering across systems. A common framework for promoting well-being is a first step to having a shared language and guide for moving forward together. Well-being is a principle that easily translates across the multiple child and family serving systems. Each system can identify how its particular goals and outcomes supports the “well becoming” of young people.

As we consider National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and the implications for systems transformation and alignment, a common well-being framework could be seen as the coagulating agent that spurs cooperation, collaboration, and alignment of practice and policy across both the various systems/agencies that serve vulnerable populations and the important life domains that we all must consider as we help children, youth, and families become well.