There has been much recent focus in the health and human service field on the effects of trauma (see Women Who Experience Trauma Are At Higher Risk Of Developing Lupus, Children Who Witness Violence Are Three Times More Likely To Inject Drugs As Adults, and Making The Link – Trauma & High-Needs Consumers). And we have looked at the importance of trauma-informed approaches to care in the past:
- Making Trauma-Informed Care An Operational Reality
- Trauma-Informed Care In Action
- Feds Release Guidance On Integrating Trauma-Focused Care In Child Serving Settings Through Child Welfare, Mental Health & Medicaid Funding
- Traumatic Consequences
But considering how trauma affects consumers isn’t important only to treatment—we’re now seeing the emergence of trauma-informed courts. What is a trauma-informed court? According to SAMHSA, (Essential Components of Trauma-Informed Judicial Practice), a trauma-informed court is one in which judges recognize the people appearing before them have personally experienced acts of violence or other traumatic life events, and are also cognizant of the stress of the courtroom environment impact on trauma survivors. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), defines trauma-informed courts as a public health approach, whereby there is a communal understanding of the long-term impact of trauma on child and adult development, including involvement in justice systems (see Trauma-Informed Courts and the Role of the Judge).
To become “trauma informed,” courts need to create the same kind of environment as any provider organization that is taking a “trauma-informed” approach. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has outlined a “bench card” for judges seeking to build this kind of environment (see NCTSN Bench Card For The Trauma-Informed Judge), including:
- Ask trauma-informed questions to identify children who need or could benefit from trauma-informed services from a mental health professional.
- Have complete information from all the systems that are working with the child and family.
- Sufficiently considering trauma when deciding where this child is going to live and with whom.
- If there isn’t enough information in court, have a trauma assessment done by a trauma-informed professional.
Recently, Pennsylvania family court Judge Kim Berkeley Clark was named recipient of the 2017 William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence, the highest honor bestowed to a state court judge by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). Judge Clark has earned a national reputation for transforming the way children and families who enter the court system are treated, by creating a trauma-informed court. In 2013, NCJFCJ reported providing trauma-related training to over 1,000 juvenile and family court professionals across the country.
A related approach is a problem-solving court (PSC), which focused on addressing the underlying problems that contribute to criminal behavior—they are often trauma-informed. Problem-solving courts include drug courts, mental health courts, and domestic violence courts.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports there are 3,052 problem-solving courts in the United States (Census of Problem-Solving Courts, 2012). Some of these courts have been around since the late 1980’s—nearly two-thirds of drug, youth specialty, and hybrid DWI/drug, and half of the domestic violence courts were instituted prior to 2005. The most recent established courts have been mental health courts, with 64% established between 2006-2012. Trauma-informed care is often used as a supportive framework within problem-solving courts.
Addressing trauma, as well as social determinants of heath, like housing and food security, is part of an integrated, whole-person approach to care (see Social Determinants Today, Social Determinants Tomorrow). Emerging best practice models for health care and social service delivery that seek to be “trauma-informed” will need to know how that best practice approach fits into the entire continuum of the system that consumers will need to navigate.
Trauma-informed courts provide a new opportunity for provider organizations to connect consumers with the supports they need and to build partnerships with other organizations and agencies to improve both individual and community health outcomes (see Services For Justice-Involved Consumers – Jumping The Chasm Between The Health Care & Corrections Systems). Problem-solving courts, like mental health courts and trauma-formed courts, need provider organization partners in the community to provide crisis intervention and jail diversion services, as well as community-based treatment services that keep people from becoming incarcerated. Services that keep individuals out of jails, focus on social supports, and are built on a trauma-informed framework of care help to lower costs and improve outcomes. Executives of community-based provider organizations will need to find a way to incorporate these services into their strategy and make them sustainable.