essential to engage the family in the youth’s recovery. Ideally, the family member would be an
adult, such as a parent or grandparent that the child has bonded to since birth. When that is not
feasible, other adults, such as relatives, neighbors, teachers, or coaches can also serve in a
supportive family role. Knowing that an adult is available can be calming to a traumatized youth.
A court sentence that couples a safe place with a supportive adult can be particularly stabilizing
for a traumatized youth.
Once stabilized, traumatized youth need to work on their self-regulation skills. A
trauma-informed sentencing recommendation is based on an understanding that traumatized
youth overreact to external events and are not inherently bad or mentally ill. This is a crucial
distinction that does not blame the victim for the initial conditions but still holds the youth
accountable for future actions. It is not a youth’s fault that he or she has been traumatized, but a
youth is responsible for learning how to self-regulate when the trauma is triggered. Learning to
recognize when one’s alarm is being triggered, how to calm down, and how to problem solve are
tremendous skills for a traumatized youth to learn. Some of these skills can be advanced through
trauma-informed therapies, discussed in the Response section above.194 Also, a person need not
be a therapist to be therapeutic. Other supportive adults can be enormously helpful here as well.
Many occasions will arise in the normal course of a day where a trauma-informed adult can work
with a youth on calming down and problem solving. A juvenile court’s sentence can require that
the available trauma-informed services identified in the PSI be used. By offering these services
to a youth in a safe place and with a supportive adult, the court can provide an optimal setting for
the youth to learn how to self-regulate and be less of a risk to the public.
Finally, to assist a traumatized youth, the sentencing judge should also look at developing
a youth’s strengths through positive programs. It is not sufficient to simply tell a youth to stop
behaving in negative ways, such as fighting or running away. A youth needs to learn positive
alternative behaviors. And an adult needs to teach these in order to help the youth find some way
to succeed. Learning positive alternative behaviors can not only help a youth deal with previous
trauma, but can also be a protective factor in making a youth more resilient when facing future
adverse experiences. Educational settings, afterschool programs, and job training could all be
ideal places to learn positive skills, and might be included as part of sentencing.195
As an example, Griffin et al. (2012b) proposed the hypothetical of a sixteen-year-old
male who does not sit still, does not pay attention, overreacts to slights, runs away, and repeatedly
gets into fights. A classic justice approach might identify the youth as delinquent, based on his
dangerous behaviors, and argue for punishment in sentencing. As a traditional alternative, some
clinicians might identify this youth as mentally ill, based on his symptoms, and in need of
medication.196 Under a trauma-informed model, the youth could be identified as reacting to
trauma based on adverse childhood experiences. This traumatized youth would still receive
consequences; however, a trauma-informed court would also work with the youth to determine
what is triggering his behaviors and focus on safety, support, self-regulation skills, and the
development of positive, alternative responses. The punishment, mental health, and trauma-
194 Dr. Perry points out that traumatized youth might also improve their self-regulation skills by engaging in simple, structured,
rhythmic, movement activities such as music, dance, and martial arts training that focus on self-control. All of these options can be
considered in sentencing a traumatized youth. Perry & Hambrick, supra note 133, at 42.
195 Rosenberg et al., supra note 126, at 6; see also, Carl C. Bell, Cultivating Resiliency in Youth, 29 J. ADOLESCENT HEALTH 375, 376
(2001) (“[M]inimizing the effects of trauma can encourage resiliency. Essentially, the strategy involved here is to support the
transformation of traumatic helpless into learned helpfulness …. If children can be identified immediately after suffering a traumatic
stressor and helped to cope with that stressor, they will be less prone to engage in self-destructive behaviors such as drug abuse, school
failure, unsafe sex, and violence.”).
196 Griffin et al., supra note 189, at 278.