Policy Brief Discussion 2: Trauma and Resilience

Policy Brief Discussion 2: Trauma and Resilience

Jennifer M. Ng'andu, Program Officer

My colleague, Kristin Schubert posted earlier this month about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's current efforts to learn how we can best contribute to overcoming a culture of violence and trauma. We believe that one way to do so is to ensure that systems and services are poised to help children and families overcome the trauma they do encounter.

This report from the Juvenile Law Center makes it clear that, in addition to providing services that are "trauma-informed," we need to be mindful of how we use our knowledge of a child's trauma to help and not to hurt. For example, we should not allow it to exacerbate racial and ethnic disparities that may stem from perceptions about who is capable of overcoming trauma, nor allow it to lower our expectations of a child's potential for success.

Please share thoughts, names of organizations or individuals with whom we should speak and resources and research that will help to shed light on our questions. We would love to hear from people from a wide range of settings – juvenile justice, child welfare, education, child care, health care and more – and to think about how lessons learned in one setting could be applied to another.

We encourage all of you to share. We sincerely cannot do this without you.

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As we think about supporting trauma-informed services—in schools, clinical settings, communities and elsewhere—we have a number of questions we are exploring.

  • When is it appropriate to surface knowledge of trauma and when is it not?
  • How do we connect children and families to systems and ensure that they are supported rather than put at risk of further trauma? Think of children who are separated from supportive family members; or brutalized by others in the juvenile justice system; and parents who are treated with a lack of dignity because of their need for services or forced to give up employment to qualify for benefits that will allow them to escape violent homes.
  • Children from different socioeconomic backgrounds are exposed to violence and trauma, but there are disparities in who receives appropriate care. How do we ensure that high-quality resources are reaching all children and families who need them?
  • Most importantly, how do we build and expand systems that recognize a child is not defined solely by the trauma he or she has experienced, but provide the proactive approaches that strengthen and build resilience?

Summary of "Trauma and Resilience" Policy Brief

Trauma and Resilience: A New Look at Legal Advocacy for Youth in the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems provides a vital look at how system involvement – in the juvenile justice or child welfare system – can cause trauma, or exacerbate underlying trauma caused by sexual abuse, violence, the death of a loved one, witnessing violence, and other experiences. The report emphasizes the opportunity to support resilience in youth, and also recognizes the risk of lifelong damage from unaddressed trauma. The publication sets forth key risks and opportunities related to the use of trauma research in advocacy on behalf of youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, and includes both strategies for individual advocates and policy recommendations for changing the system.

Read RWJF's Introduction to the Trauma and Resilience Brief

Download the Executive Summary (PDF)

Download the Full Policy Report (PDF)


Read Jenn Ng'andu's post in Edutopia on Juvenile Law Center's findings.

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