Our Policy – Key Principles Overview “All judges should appropriately engage families, professionals, organizations, and communities to effectively support child safety, permanency, and well-being; victim safety; offender accountability; healthy family functioning; and community protection. Accordingly, judges should appropriately engage the court system to ‘first, do no harm’ recognizing that all persons appearing before the court do so with experience and concepts of self, family, community, culture, and history. The key principles provide a foundation for courts to exercise these critical duties.” The Issue A 2009 study found that nearly 61% of children and youth under 18 in a nationally representative sample had experienced at least one direct or indirect (i.e., witnessed) form of victimization in the previous year. Exposure to violence is related to emotional and physical health problems, as well as heightened risk for juvenile delinquency. Despite the growing attention to the needs of children exposed to violence, progress toward ameliorating adverse childhood experiences is slow, particularly in the juvenile and family court systems. Courts often lack a complete understanding of the effects of trauma on the populations before them and may not have the capacity to modify environments, policies, and practices to keep from compounding the trauma experienced. Our Work • The NCJFCJ’s work with courts is informed by a focus on trauma using a universal precautions approach that assumes children and families involved in the court system have experienced some form of trauma that may be mitigated through court-based interventions. The NCJFCJ has developed trauma assessment tools which use a multi-method approach to evaluate court practices, policies, environments, and stakeholder attitudes in order to advance the emerging field of trauma-informed justice. • While the trauma assessment tools currently provide observational and survey analysis of current environment and practices, enhancements are underway, to include a robust qualitative assessment of how institutional processes may affect the children and families served. As such, trauma assessments are using an institutional ethnography approach to social investigation. This methodology is particularly suited to NCJFCJ’s Project ONE [see corresponding Project ONE fact sheet] because it examines the coordinated and intersecting activities of systems and institutions. Our Results Court trauma assessments are designed to promote research in the area of juvenile and family courts’ responses to children, youth, and families who are exposed to violence and may be experiencing trauma. Courts will make practice and policy changes based on recommendations stemming from the assessments and will track changes in outcomes for children and families over time. Of all the professionals working with vulnerable populations, juvenile and family court judges are uniquely situated to identify traumatized persons and ensure an appropriate response that will meet their needs. Trauma assessments within NCJFCJ’s Project ONE sites will help facilitate this concept throughout the country and will likely lead to improved outcomes for children and families involved in the juvenile court system.
National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges www.NCJFCJ.org / Ph. (775) 507-4777
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