A system of care for traumatized children

By the Hon. Ramona Gonzalez
Board Director, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges
La Crosse County Circuit Court, Wisconsin

Sally is a seven-year-old girl who just disclosed physical abuse to her teacher. Over the next few days, Sally must relate her story multiple times to a social worker, an attorney, a foster parent, a police officer, and a judge. Each time she recounts her abuse, she spends the entire day unable to concentrate, and at night has she bad dreams preventing her from sleeping. By the end of the week, Sally is exhausted. She has barely slept, her grades are falling, and she is beginning to wonder why she spoke about the abuse in the first place.

Sally’s story happens all too frequently for youth who disclose abuse. Complex confidentiality systems can isolate or “silo” information, even when statutory sharing mechanisms are available. Professionals from different agencies often conduct their own investigation, only to find exactly the same information from the same victimized child. Being forced to relive abuse day after day is re-traumatizing and confusing for children, exacerbating trauma symptoms. Virtually everyone who has worked in the child abuse field acknowledges that there must be a better way to help children in need.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and is an opportunity to highlight a system of care for those children victimized and traumatized by abuse. In Montana, a collaborative team (the Linking Systems of Care Committee) and in Virginia (the Partner Agency Team) is involved in The Linking Systems of Care for Children and Youth Demonstration project funded by the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Victims of Crime. This unique project is designed to provide or coordinate prevention and intervention services to youth and families experiencing trauma and victimization, and to build capacity within communities to meet the needs of youth exposed to violence. At the heart of this project is the idea that all systems of care are connected, and,
to be effective, they need to create a common vocabulary, share information, and create seamless and equitable access to victims.

The states of Montana and Virginia are working to develop a groundbreaking common-use screening tool to identify victimized youth whenever they interact with a system of care and refer them to needed services. Identification and referral of child victims is extremely important in these demonstration sites. More importantly, the common use of a screening tool illustrates that opportunities for healing occur at all points of contact, and by investing in common screening and assessment, systems of care can reduce the duplicative and redundant investigation that often re-traumatize victimized youth.

Using the guiding principles of the Linking Systems of Care Demonstration Project, Sally would have been screened for victimization immediately upon disclosure, and the subsequent intervention for Sally would avoid processes and practices that re-traumatize her, like telling her story repeatedly. Sally’s services would have been strength-based, holistic, and focused on resilience. Rather than treating Sally’s case as a vignette, her judge would also take into account the life-course perspective of victimization and trauma, and consider trauma experienced across lifespans and generations, including historical and structural trauma and racism. Finally, it would hold systems of care accountable to each other, and to the families the system serves.

To many of my colleagues in the judiciary, social services, and allied professions, this sounds like the better way to help victims. Healing happens when systems of care offer coordinated treatment and create the opportunity to make positive social-emotional connections and provide for self-determination. This is the “what” Linking Systems of Care is, the chance to build capacity within the communities of Montana and Virginia to meet the needs of youth exposed to violence. If you are interested in how you can become involved in this project, visit the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges at http://www.ncjfcj.org.

Be worried about boys, especially baby boys


We often hear that boys need to be toughened up so as not to be sissies. Parent toughness toward babies is celebrated as “not spoiling the baby.” Wrong! These ideas are based on a misunderstanding of how babies develop. Instead, babies rely on tender, responsive care to grow well—with self-control, social skills and concern for others.

A review of empirical research just came out by Allan N. Schore, called “All our sons: The developmental neurobiology and neuroendocrinology of boys at risk.”

This thorough review shows why we should be worried about how we treat boys early in their lives. Here are a few highlights:

Why does early life experience influence boys significantly more than girls?

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I’m not cured, but I am healing

Donna Jackson Nakazawa

Donna Jackson Nakazawa

More than 133 million American adults — one in two of us — suffer from a chronic condition, including autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, digestive disorders, migraines, back pain, depression, diabetes, cancer and chronic pain. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those of us in our 40s, 50s and 60s are twice as likely as our parents were to suffer from debilitating chronic conditions in middle age.

I’m one of those statistics. I’ve spent much of the past decade navigating my life around health crises. Twice I’ve been paralyzed by Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease similar to multiple sclerosis, but with a more sudden onset and a wider array of possible outcomes. Other diagnoses — low blood cell counts, thyroiditis and the need for a pacemaker — have also complicated my health and my life.

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A memoir about surviving ACEs


I became a professional reader long before I was a writer when I was living in homeless shelters, subsidized housing, and welfare hotels with my mother in New York City.

Most of the middle class and affluent black folks I would come to know in the future would wince and give me a look I couldn’t read when I would tell the story that I outline in my new memoir, The Beautiful Darkness: A Handbook for Orphans. All some intolerant, ignorant bigots need is to continue to hear about the dysfunction of black families or the lie that we are all poor (living in inner cities) and broken and hopeless. But unfortunately, in my case, the dysfunction was just part of what I lived through as a kid.

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Racing ACEs gathering and reflection: If it’s not racially just, it’s not trauma-informed


The following memo was written by a group of people who participated in the Racing ACEs gathering. 

It’s 2016. Local and national protests rise against an ongoing stream of state-sanctioned murders. African-American lives are being lost at a frequency and in a manner that decry ethnic cleansing. Sacred Indigenous land is being desecrated for profit. African-American, Native American, Latino American, Asian American, and poor communities are facing dislocation, police violence, and a range of traumas that compose the frayed ends of America’s historically racist national fabric.

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Juvenile transfers to adult court: A lingering outcome of the super-predator craze


By John Kelly, ChronicleofSocialChange.org

Twenty years ago, in a speech at Keene State College in New Hampshire, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton made a comment about juvenile crime. Discussing the need for a top-level fight against gangs that harkened the mob-busting of previous decades, Clinton told reporters that “they are not just gangs of kids anymore.”

“They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators,’ ” Clinton continued. “No conscience, no empathy; we can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

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Kids and drugs: A new theory

By Karen Savage
NEW YORK — Author and reporter Maia Szalavitz, who writes about substance use and related issues recently spoke with Youth Today and JJIE about her experience and her newest book: “Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction,” released in April. Here’s Szalavitz’s take on addiction and its complexities, from her own experience and in her own words.

A sin or a learning disorder?

There’s traditionally been two ways of seeing addiction. Either it’s a sin and you’re a horrible bad person and you are just choosing to be a hedonist, or it’s a chronic progressive disease. While I certainly believe addiction is a medical problem that should be dealt with by the health system, the way we’ve conceptualized addiction as a disease is not actually accurate. Continue reading

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