This Court has referred this child1 for mental health assessment. Your report will assist the judge in making important decisions. Please be sure the Court is aware of your professional training and credentials. In addition to your standard psychosocial report, we are seeking trauma-specific information. Please include your opinion regarding the child’s current level of danger and risk of harm. The Court is also interested in information about the child’s history of prescribed psychiatric medications. We realize that you may be unable to address every issue raised below, but the domains listed below are provided as an evidence-based approach to trauma-informed assessment.
Please describe the interview approaches (structured as well as unstructured) used for the evaluation. Describe the evidence supporting the validity, reliability, and accuracy of these methods for children or adolescents. For screens or tests, please report their validity and reliability, and if they were designed for the population to which this child belongs. If feasible, please report standardized norms.
Discuss any other data that contributed to your picture of this child. Please describe how the perspectives of key adults have been obtained. Are the child’s caregivers or other significant adults intentionally or unintentionally preventing this child from feeling safe, worthy of respect, and effective? Are caregivers capable of protecting and fostering the healthy development of the child? Are caregivers operating in “survival mode” (such as interacting with the child in a generally anxious, indifferent, hopeless, or angry way) due to their own history of exposure to trauma? What additional support/resources might help these adults help this child?
Please discuss the child’s existing strengths and coping approaches that can be reinforced to assist in the recovery or rehabilitation process. Strengths might include perseverance, patience, assertiveness, organization, creativity, and empathy, but coping might take distorted forms. Consider how the child’s inherent strengths might have been converted into “survival strategies” that present as non-cooperative or even antisocial behaviors that have brought this child to the attention of the Court.
Please report perspectives voiced by the child, as well as by caregivers and other significant adults, that highlight areas of hope and recovery.
Acknowledging that child and adolescent presentations of PTSD symptoms will differ from adult presentations, please “rule-in” or “rule-out” specific DSM-V criteria for PTSD for adolescents and children older than six years, which include the following criteria: •
PTSD can also be present for children ages six and younger. Criteria include exposure; intrusive symptoms, including distressing memories or play re-enactment and physiological reactions to reminders; avoidance of people, conversations or situations; negative emotional states such as fear, sadness, or confusion, sometimes resulting in constriction of play; irritable behavior and hypervigilance; and impairment in relationships with parents, siblings, peers or other caregivers.
Even if an official DSM-V diagnosis of PTSD is not warranted, traumatic stress reactions can definitely or potentially contribute to the child’s behavioral, emotional, interpersonal, or attitudinal problems. Traumatic stress reactions may contribute to problems with aggression, defiance, avoidance, impulsivity, rule-breaking, school failure or truancy, running away, substance abuse, and an inability to trust or maintain cooperative and respectful relationships with peers or adults.
Has this child ever received Trauma-Focused, Evidence-Based Treatment?*** Sometimes well-intentioned psychiatric, psychological, social work, or substance abuse evaluations and treatment are incomplete and of limited effectiveness because they do not systematically address the impact of children’s traumatic stress reactions.
The Court is interested in potential sources of trauma-informed services in your area and your thoughts about the likelihood that the child can receive those services.
In the meantime, what can be done immediately for and with the family, school, and community to enhance safety, build on the child’s strengths, and to provide support and guidance? How can this child best develop alternative coping skills that will help with emotional and behavioral self-regulation?
Structured case plans for probation, community supervision, and/or placement should consider the ability of the setting and the people involved to assist the child in feeling safe, valued, and respected. This is especially important for traumatized children. Similarly, the plan for returning home, for continuing school and education, and for additional court or probationary monitoring should also clearly address each child’s unique concerns about safety, personal effectiveness, self-worth, and respect. Please consider where, when, and with whom this child feels most safe, effective, valued and respected. Where, when, and with whom does the child feel unsafe, ineffective, or not respected? What out-of-home placements are available that can better provide for this child’s health and safety, as well as for the community’s safety? What placements might encourage success in school, relationships, and personal development?
1 The use of “child” on this bench card refers to any youth who comes under jurisdiction of the juvenile court.
*** Trauma-Focused, Evidence-Based (TI-EB) Treatment is science-based, often requires training in a specific protocol with careful clinical supervision, and emphasizes the treatment relationship, personal/psychological safety, emotional and behavioral selfregulation, development of coping skills, specific treatment of child traumatic experiences, and development of self-enhancing/prosocial thinking, feeling, decision-making, and behaving. TI-EB treatments include: Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy, Trauma Affect Regulation: Guidelines for Education and Therapy, Child Parent Psychotherapy and more. See website: http://www.nctsn.org/resources/topics/treatments-that-work/promising-practices
This project was funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The views, policies, and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of SAMHSA or HHS.
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