PTSD in Children

By Ashley Sewell, CFCC Student Fellow 2014-2015

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, most commonly known as PTSD, is usually associated with combat veterans. Many people are not aware that PTSD can affect children and teens, as well. Children and teens could develop PTSD if they have lived through an event that could have caused them or someone else to be killed or badly hurt.[1] The stressful or traumatic event involves a situation where someone’s life has been threatened or severe injury has occurred.[2] PTSD also can occur after the unexpected or violent death of a family member or close friend or following serious harm or threat of death or injury to a loved one.[3] Studies show that, overall, about 8 percent of Americans suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives.[4] But the rates appear to be much higher in communities such as poor, largely African American populations, where high rates of violent crime have persisted, despite a national decline.[5]The majority of research on chronic community violence exposure focuses on the perpetrators of the violence, not on the youth who are its direct or indirect victims.[6] School-based treatment and preventive interventions are needed for children at elevated risk for exposure to community violence.[7]

This is extremely disheartening, particularly when thinking about the number of juveniles who reside in juvenile detention, correctional, and/or residential facilities. As of 2011, 61, 423 youth resided in juvenile detention, correctional, and/or residential facilities in the United States.[8] It seems as if it would be more beneficial to treat the youth for their PTSD before locking them up or sending them away to juvenile detention, correctional, or residential facilities. If you can get to the root of the problem while the child is young, it seems as if that would be more beneficial than hoping that when the child’s punishment has been completed, they will have changed for the better. This comports with a concept that is taught consistently by my Family Law professor, Professor Barbara Babb. An approach grounded in Therapeutic Jurisprudence seems like a better answer for most kids than punishing them. Therapeutic Jurisprudence is a perspective or framework, and its use suggests the need to conduct empirical research to determine whether outcomes resulting from the application of substantive laws, legal rules, and legal procedures and from the behavior of legal actors have therapeutic (helpful) or anti-therapeutic (harmful) consequences, both intended and unintended.[9] The system does not seem to be working as is, so why not give a different approach to treating delinquent behavior a try? At least it would help us to determine a better system for youth in the juvenile justice system. What do you think?

[1] “PTSD: National Center for PTSD”
[2] “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)”
[3] “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder”
[4] “The PTSD Crisis That’s Being Ignored: Americans Wounded in Their Own Neighborhoods”
[5] Id.
[6] “Community Violence and Youth: Affect, Behavior, Substance Abuse and Academics”
[7] Id.
[8] “Youth Residing in Juvenile Detention, Correctional and/or Residential Facilities”,133,18,17,14/any/319,320
[9] “Therapeutic Jurisprudence” by David Wesler

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