And if ever a pathological background might have contributed to a 14-
year-old’s commission of a crime, it is here. [His] stepfather physically
abused him; his alcoholic and drug-addicted mother neglected him; he had
been in and out of foster care as a result; and he had tried to kill himself
four times, the first when he should have been in kindergarten. 54
While not denying that the juvenile defendants were found to have committed a violent crime, the
Court firmly held that a sentencer should look at such adverse experiences before making a final
In sum, the Miller Court, like its predecessors in Roper and Graham, recognized the
effects of development inherent in adolescence. The Miller Court, however, expanded upon this
consideration to include outside influences as well—mainly, adverse childhood experiences.
According to Miller, sentencing courts need to “consider the mitigation qualities of youth,”
including a youth’s neglectful and violent family background as well as any emotional
disturbances he or she may demonstrate. 56 With this finding, the Court directly opened the door
to considering child trauma in juvenile sentencing. 57
III. CHILD TRAUMA
There is not a single definition of child trauma, but rather many variations on a common
framework. For example, the National Institute of Mental Health defined childhood trauma “as
the emotionally painful or distressful experience of an event by a child that may result in lasting
mental and physical effects,” 58 while the National Child Traumatic Stress Network explains that
“trauma occurs when a child experiences an intense event that threatens or causes harm to his or
her emotional and physical well-being.” 59 Other definitions exist, 60 but what may be most useful
is to consider a childhood trauma framework and understand how the various definitions address
“The Three E’s” that make up the essential components of trauma: the Event, the Experience and
the Effects. 61
A. The Event
The event is the objective action that happens to a child. There is not a finite list of
events that can cause trauma. Objective events can include abuse (physical, sexual, emotional),
neglect, violence (domestic and community), accidents, and acts of terrorism. 62 The event can be
54 Id. at 2469.
56 Id. at 2467.
57 Id. at 2469.
58 GENE GRIFFIN & ANNE STUDZINSKI, ILL. CHILDHOOD TRAUMA COAL., ILLINOIS CHILDHOOD TRAUMA COALITION WHITE PAPER:
CHILD TRAUMA AS A LENS FOR THE PUBLIC SECTOR 4 (2010),
59 What Is Child Traumatic Stress?, NAT’L CHILD TRAUMATIC STRESS NETWORK 1 (2003),
60 SUSAN F. COLE ET AL., MASS. ADVOCATES FOR CHILDREN, HELPING TRAUMATIZED CHILDREN LEARN: SUPPORTIVE SCHOOL
ENVIRONMENTS FOR CHILDREN TRAUMATIZED BY FAMILY VIOLENCE 18 (2005) [hereinafter HELPING TRAUMATIZED CHILDREN
LEARN] (providing definitions of child trauma). “Experts explain that trauma is not an event itself, but rather a response to a stressful
experience in which a person’s ability to cope is dramatically undermined.” Id.
61 See Part One: Defining Trauma, SUBSTANCE ABUSE & MENTAL HEALTH SERVS. ADMIN.,
http://www.samhsa.gov/traumajustice/traumadefinition/definition.aspx (last updated Dec. 10, 2012) [hereinafter Defining Trauma]
(citing Gene Griffin, Presentation at the NIDA/ACYF Experts Meeting on Trauma and Child Maltreatment (2012)).
62 See Frank E. Vandervort et al., Building Resilience in Foster Children: The Role of the Child’s Advocate, CHILD. LEGAL RTS. J.,
Fall 2012, at 1, 1 (“Trauma in this sense generally refers to being a victim of violence, witnessing violence, or experiencing stressful