Trauma Informed System of Care

"The mission of the juvenile court is complex. The court is tasked with protecting society, safeguarding the youth and families that come to its attention, and holding delinquent youth accountable while supporting their rehabilitation. In order to successfully meet these sometimes contradictory goals, the courts, and especially the juvenile court judge, are asked to understand the myriad underlying factors that affect the lives of juveniles and their families. One of the most pervasive of these factors is exposure to trauma. To be most effective in achieving its mission, the juvenile court must both understand the role of traumatic exposure in the lives of children and engage resources and interventions that address child traumatic stress." (Excerpt taken from "Ten Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know About Trauma and Delinquency").

10 Key Principles

  1. A traumatic experience is an event that threatens someone’s life, safety, or well-being.
  2. Child traumatic stress can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  3. Trauma impacts a child’s development and health throughout his or her life.
  4. Complex trauma is associated with risk of delinquency.
  5. Traumatic exposure, delinquency, and school failure are related.
  6. Trauma assessments can reduce misdiagnosis, promote outcomes, and maximize resource.
  7. There are mental health treatments that are effective in helping youth who are experiencing child traumatic stress.
  8. There is a compelling need for effective family involvement.
  9. Youth are resilient.
  10. Next steps: The juvenile justice system needs to be trauma-informed at all levels.

Trauma: Key Definitions

Acute Trauma: A Single traumatic event that is limited in time. An earthquake, dog bite, or motor vehicle accident are all examples of acute traumas.

Chronic Trauma: Chronic trauma may refer to multiple and varied (traumatic) events such as a child who is exposed to domestic violence at home, is involved in a car accident, and then becomes a victim of community violence, or longstanding trauma such as physical abuse of war.

Complex Trauma: Complex trauma is a term used by some experts to describe both exposure to chronic trauma—usually caused by adults entrusted with the child’s care, such as parents or caregivers—and the immediate and long-term impact of such exposure on the child.

Hypervigilance: Abnormally increased arousal, responsiveness to stimuli, and scanning of the environment for threats. Hypervigilance is a symptom that adults and youth can develop after exposure to dangerous and life-threatening events. The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic criteria manual identifies it as a symptom related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Resiliency: A pattern of positive adaptation in the context of past or present adversity.

Traumatic Reminders: A traumatic reminder is any person, situation, sensation, feeling, or thing that reminds a child of a traumatic event. When faced with these reminders, a child may re-experience the intense and disturbing feelings tied to the original trauma.

Note: All definitions taken from "Ten Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know About Trauma and Delinquency" (page 4).

Resources & Tools

External Web Resources:

Florida Department of Juvenile Justice - Trauma Informed Care

Florida Courts - Family Court Toolk Kit: Trauma and Child Development

The National Center for Trauma-Informed Care (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network


Healing Invisible Wounds: Why Investing in Trauma-Informed Care for Children Makes Sense by Erica J. Adams, MD, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Spring 2010 Intern, Justice Policy Institute.

Snapshot: Trauma Audit was published by the NCJFCJ, August 2014

"Toward a Conceptual Framework for Trauma-Informed Practice in Juvenile and Family Courts" by Shawn C. Marsh, Ph.D. and Carly B. Dierkhising, MA was published in NCJFCJ's Today Magazine, Summer 2013 

Ten Things Every Juvenile Court Judge Should Know About Trauma and Delinquency was published by the NCJFCJ in 2010 and is a valuable source of information for juvenile court judges. The Bulletin is broken down into ten key components that every juvenile judge should consider as they deal with youth in the juvenile justice system.

A Trauma Primer for Juvenile Probation and Juvenile Detention Staff by Shawn C. Marsh, Ph.D. and Carly B. Dierkhising, MA

Experts in the Field

If you have any questions regarding trauma and delinquency, please contact an NCJFCJ expert at