Trauma and Resilience

A teenage boy stands in court in front of a judge.

This policy report provides a vital look at how system involvement—in the juvenile justice or child welfare system—can cause trauma, or exacerbate underlying trauma caused by sexual abuse, violence, the death of a loved one, witnessing violence, and other experiences. The report emphasizes the opportunity to support resilience in youth, and also recognizes the risk of lifelong damage from unaddressed trauma.


Too frequently, we ask youth and families to make drastic changes without stepping back to examine whether our systems themselves need to change to better meet the needs of the community. Research on trauma gives us a new lens through which to examine our legal advocacy and our public systems, and to identify new strategies to improve outcomes for youth and families.

Juvenile Law Center


The publication sets forth key risks and opportunities related to the use of trauma research in advocacy on behalf of youth in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, and includes both strategies for individual advocates and policy recommendations for changing the system.

"This report from the Juvenile Law Center makes it clear that, in addition to providing services that are 'trauma informed,' we need to be mindful of how we use our knowledge of a child's trauma to help and not to hurt," says RWJF Program Officer Jennifer Ng'andu. "For example, we should not allow it to exacerbate racial and ethnic disparities that may stem from perceptions about who is capable of overcoming trauma, nor allow it to lower our expectations of a child's potential for success."