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Family Court Tool Kit: Trauma and Child Development

Moving toward a trauma-responsive, developmentally-informed court with a foundation in cutting-edge science

Trauma-related news

The U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Futures Without Violence, and the Ad Council have developed a new website, Changing Minds, to raise awareness about what brain science tells us regarding the impact of childhood trauma. The website also includes practical age-related tips for how to help children overcome the negative effects of trauma. The website details five healing gestures: celebrate, comfort, collaborate, listen, and inspire.

Click here to see Dr. Vincent Felitti’s keynote presentation at the Creating Trauma Informed Systems in Florida Think Tank in Naples, Florida.  Dr. Felitti was a co-principal investigator in the landmark epidemiological Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

An exciting new website from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a free library of photos and videos that illustrate developmental milestones. This resource, entitled Milestones in Action, provides information for children age two months through five years.

Click herePDF Download for Red Flags of Trauma, a quick guide for judges, developed by Judge Lynn Tepper, Sixth Judicial Circuit.

Adjudicating Domestic Violence Custody Cases: What Judges Must Know
This June 2017 article calls for family court judges to examine their standard practices based on new research.  

What is this tool kit?

This tool kit contains compelling information, rooted in science, which aids in determining children's needs based on developmental milestones and the impact of trauma. 

Click here for a brief video featuring Lynn Tepper, retired circuit judge, for an overview of the tool kit and reasons why judges need to understand the content in it.

Why use it?

The information and practices in this tool kit will improve judicial decision making and improve outcomes for children. The practices are in keeping with guiding principlesPDF Download from In re: Report of the Family Court Steering Committee, 794 So. 2d 518 (Fla. 2001). Federal regulations, state statutes, Florida Supreme Court opinions, and a judicial canon support these practices and authorize trauma screening and treatment. Click herePDF Download for citations. 

Writing for a trauma blog, Tifanie Petro contemplates why it is she has a passion for using trauma-informed care. She writes: "And then I knew that it was about that moment when you had truly engaged with someone, and you could see their soul and their heart and their pain ...and you watch as the light bulb flickers on. That moment when you hear that sigh of relief and they say "ohhhhhh". Sometimes it's about themselves, and why they keep repeating the same patterns over and over, and it's like for the first time someone let them know that they weren't broken or un-fixable. And sometimes it's about someone they love, and their understanding of the years of hurt or confusion that now suddenly make sense. So my "why" was this pure honor of being part of someone's "a-ha" moment. Being able to connect with them on a level that lets them know that they don't have to be perfect … It has to do with having conversations that can change lives, and just appreciating the moments I get to see when the light flickers..on. What's your why?"

Who should use it?

Judges, magistrates, and hearing officers who preside over family court cases, as well as court partners, including but not limited to mediators, attorneys, parenting coordinators, case managers, juvenile probation officers, and clerks who handle family court cases. This includes most family court case typesPDF Download as specified by rule. In addition, judges hearing criminal cases and those in problem-solving courts (such as drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans courts) will also benefit from studying this tool kit.

When should it be used?

Cutting edge research in the area of brain development, attachment, and child trauma demands it.

How should it be used?

The tool kit is organized in the following way: it begins with a summary of the problem, offers a proposed solution, states the goal, and provides practical tools.
Read it, digest it, practice it, and present it for discussion at a multidisciplinary brown bag luncheon, model court workshop, or learning circle.