This year’s session will again focus on trauma and the work that AECF, New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission and others have done recently to create trauma informed care environments. Last week, AECF, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) and CJCA partnered on a Juvenile Justice Reform Champions Convening, focusing on the AECF 8 Principles of Care, in Dayton, Ohio. This convening brought together juvenile justice system leaders, judiciary, and community leaders from Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, and Ohio to focus on advancing juvenile justice reform within their jurisdictions. This convening focused on strategies being used or those that could be used to promote adolescent appropriate and therapeutic interventions and practices in state-level as well as local-level secure placements and programs for youth with delinquency offenses.

The presentations focused heavily on the impact of trauma and healing on youth, their families and our staff. As the presentations and discussions played out, I was left with several thoughts that I feel are important to share with our members, network affiliates and all of our juvenile justice colleagues. Over the past few years, we have all come to realize the importance of trauma informed care and training for our staff that focuses on recognizing and responding to trauma motivated behaviors. Much work is being done in regards to creating trauma informed environments for secure residential facilities and we are also beginning to recognize the vicarious effects on our staff working in these environments.

As we continue to work on improving the conditions of confinement and recognize the importance of focusing on trauma informed care, I’ve also come to recognize the impact trauma has on the environments, atmosphere and cultures in our secure facilities. Trauma and how staff recognize and respond to trauma related behaviors, plays a profound role in the overall atmosphere and climate. Facilities that fail to provide trauma informed care environments tend to have significantly higher rates of incidents of violence, as well as increased use of isolation and restraint.

Conversely, facilities that have effectively implemented trauma informed care environments, embraced family engagement, and are properly training staff in these concepts and implementing staff wellness programs that focus on the effects of trauma on staff, not only have significantly fewer incidents of violence, reduces use of isolation and restraint, but also experience a transformation in the overall atmosphere and culture of these facilities. We can also easily see the difference in these facilities environments and conditions reflected in the Performance-based Standards (PbS) outcome measures through recent data collection cycles. As I visit facilities all across the country, I tend to see the evidence of these outcomes in the positive relationships that are developed between the staff and youth. You can literally see the difference in these environments on the faces of both the staff and kids entrusted to our care.