Mental Health

The Effects of Trauma

Juvenile justice and social service agencies and courts must take steps to recognize and respond to the impact of trauma on the children they serve. Many youth alleged to have committed status offenses have been victims of child abuse or neglect and/or have witnessed family or community violence.  These experiences may be traumatic and in some cases will lead to short- or long-term traumatic stress symptoms. Studies estimate that past traumatic experiences and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are twice as common among juvenile justice-involved youth.1 Children who are abused or who experience other types of violence are more likely to commit crimes (as minors or adults), have mental health and substance abuse issues, and commit suicide.  Youth who witness family or community violence are also more likely to have social and academic problems, and experience anxiety, depression and/or aggression.2  Traumatic stress can manifest as anxiety, depression, concentration issues (post-traumatic stress is frequently misdiagnosed as ADHD), impulsivity, emotional numbing, lack of affect, and conduct problems, among other issues.3 See Section 1.4 to learn how trauma can affect health and mental health.

Training for First Responders

Training is critical for first responders in the child welfare, education, juvenile justice, law enforcement,4 social service, mental health and runaway and homeless youth systems.  Educating responders on the various home, community and school factors that contribute to or cause status behaviors will equip them to contribute to and implement a system that tailors approaches to the specific needs of each child and family.  Elements of the training should give first responders the ability to recognize signs of trauma, disability and mental health issues, as well as put behavior in the proper cultural and socioeconomic contexts. See Section 2.3 for more information about training first response professionals to identify health and mental health needs of youth charged with status offenses.

Some estimate that as many as 70% of youth who enter the justice system have a mental health, sensory or learning disability, and anywhere between 28 percent and 43 percent of detained or incarcerated youth have special education needs.5

Youth with Undiagnosed or Mistreated Disabilities

Judicial, legal, law enforcement, justice, social service and school professionals working with youth alleged to have committed status offenses and their families should ensure that children with learning, mental health, sensory, speech/language or co-occurring disabilities are treated fairly and given access to needed evaluations, treatments and services. Often the conduct that leads to status offense system involvement relates to an unknown, under diagnosed or mistreated disability. Implementing and coordinating early screening, assessment and intervention strategies before court involvement is key to providing needed supports to children and families and limiting or avoiding unnecessary court involvement. See Section 1.11 for more information about youth with undiagnosed or mistreated disabilities.

This page was adapted from the National Standards for the Care of Youth Charged with Status Offenses. 

1 Ford, J. D., Steinberg, K., Hawke, J., Levine, J., & Zhang, W. (2012). "Randomized Trial Comparison of Emotion Regulation and Relational Psychotherapies for PTSD with Girls Involved in Delinquency.” Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 41, 27-37; Ford, J D., J Hartman, K.,  Hawke, J., and John F. Chapman.  (2008). “Traumatic Victimization, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicidal Ideation, and Substance Abuse Risk Among Juvenile Justice-Involved Youth” Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma. 1(1).

2 Siegfried, C.B., Ko, S.J., & Kelly, A. (2004). “Victimization and Juvenile Offending.” Pg. 5, Los Angeles, CA and Durham, NC: National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Juvenile Justice Working Group.

3 National Child Traumatic Stress Network Child Welfare Committee. Child Welfare Trauma Training Toolkit (2008). Available at:

4  A survey of police chiefs by the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that departments had not provided juvenile justice in-service training to officers and that half of the agencies responding did not mandate in-service juvenile justice training after the academy. International Association of Chiefs of Police (2011). Juvenile Justice Training Needs Assessment: A Survey of Law Enforcement. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Available at:

5 National Disability Rights Network, Juvenile Justice (Website), Available at:; Mallett C. (2011). “Seven Things Juvenile Courts Should Know about Learning Disabilities.” Reno, NV: National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (citing numerous references); Quinn, M., et al.(2005). “Youth with Disabilities in Juvenile Corrections: A National Survey.” Exceptional Children, Vol. 71, No. 3. pp. 339-345.