Juvenile Law Center

Child Welfare and Foster Care|Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Trauma-Informed Advocacy

Emerging research shows that childhood and adolescent exposure to serious harm can cause both physiological and neurological changes that may dramatically affect adolescent behavior.1 Long-term effects are particularly likely in cases of repeated exposure. However, with support -- particularly from parents and other adult family members -- youth can be remarkably resilient.2 Attorneys are increasingly relying on trauma research in their representation of youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

Juvenile Law Center’s work focuses on protecting youth from harm imposed by child-serving systems, connecting youth with needed services, and ensuring that evidence of past trauma is not used as a justification for further punitive treatment of youth and families.  We are particularly interested in distinguishing between trauma research that is beneficial to a youth’s delinquency or dependency case and cases in which evidence of trauma may disadvantage the child.    

Juvenile Law Center’s work also focuses on ensuring that research about trauma does not exacerbate racial disparities in the child welfare and juvenile justice system.  Too often, high rates of trauma within public systems are misunderstood to mean high rates of family dysfunction in poor communities of color. This view ignores the research showing that youth and families of color are more likely to be brought into the juvenile justice and child welfare systems than white families even for the same behavior, and even controlling for a variety of background characteristics.3

In 2013, Juvenile Law Center, with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, convened a national group of experts in psychology, psychiatry, and law to identify obstacles and opportunities to using trauma research in child welfare and juvenile justice advocacy.  That convening led to our publication Trauma and Resilience: A New Look at Legal Advocacy for Youth in the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems.  This publication, which offers tips for attorneys as well as policy recommendations, serves as the basis for our training and technical assistance. We also engage in other advocacy strategies, including litigation, to abolish practices likely to cause trauma, such as solitary confinement.  See T.D. and O.S. v. Mickens et al. 



1 See Sandra L. Bloom, M.D., Laying the Groundwork: The Impact of Trauma on Brain Development, Presentation to the Juvenile Law Center Trauma and Resilience Convening (Jan. 28, 2013); see also Danya Glaser, Child Abuse and Neglect and the Brain—A Review, 41 J Child Psychol. & Psychiatry 97 (2000).
2 Danya Glaser, Child Abuse and Neglect and the Brain—A Review, 41 J Child Psychol. & Psychiatry 97, 111 (2000).
3 See, e.g., Alice M. Hines et al., Factors Related to the Disproportionate Involvement of Children of Color in the Child Welfare System: A Review and Emerging Themes, 26 Child. & Youth Servs. Rev. 507 (2008).


Last updated: 2/10/2015

Support Juvenile Law Center

One of the most important lessons from our 40 years of experience is that children involved with the justice and foster care systems need zealous legal advocates. Your support for our work is more important now than ever before. Support