Recognizing that trauma, child development, and outcomes are inextricably linked, what does that mean from the bench? See below for ten practical tools.
Click here for the Florida state statutes, a judicial canon, Florida Supreme Court opinion, and federal regulations that authorize application of the ten tools below.
"I am astounded every day at how effective this trauma-informed approach is. I can assure you this creates a very different courtroom and courthouse atmosphere than I had 20 years ago. The satisfaction and transformations are tremendous." - The Honorable Lynn Tepper, Sixth Judicial Circuit. Circuit judge since January 1989 and county judge 1985-1988.
THE BIG 10
1. Understand trauma and child development.
Read the research, attend trainings, and talk with local trauma and child development experts.
The links below provide milestones, red flags, and common traumatic stress reactions.
The links below provide listings of related research.
Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University
ACES Too High
Child Trauma Academy
Click here for the September 2014 trauma edition of the American Bar Association’s Child Law Practice.
Click here for a directory of Florida’s Early Learning Coalitions. These coalitions can provide linkages to local child development experts.
Click here for web-based trainings at the Learning Center for Child and Adolescent Trauma, hosted by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
2. Presume trauma.
First and foremost, presume that every family in court has been impacted by trauma in some way. Consider that many parents have experienced numerous adverse childhood experiences, not just the children and youth in court. Similar to the universal precautions that emerged in response to HIV/AIDS whereby everyone was assumed to have the disease when blood exposure was a factor, a universal precautions approach to trauma assumes that people appearing in courts have experienced adversity in some manner. (NCJFCJ, Juvenile and Family Justice Today, Summer 2013) It means having a secure, safe, and calm court environment – one that attempts to limit heightened agitation, arousal, and stress. Further, it means that all who appear before the court, and all who work in the courthouse, are treated with respect and dignity.
Click here for learning about "what hurts" and "what helps" related to judicial communication, courthouse environment, and self-awareness.
Click here for a quick refresher on trauma-informed communication.
3. Coordinate all cases involving one family.
There are many important reasons why a circuit should coordinate related family court cases. For families who have experienced multiple traumatic events and chronic stress, it is imperative to coordinate their cases. Specifically, for these families, their cases should be coordinated and heard by only one judge, using the one family/one judge model. Just as trauma from adverse childhood experiences most often occurs within intimate relationships, healing also happens within relationships. A family’s trajectory can be significantly impacted through relationships. The one family/one judge model can lessen the time for the family and court partners to develop trust, and can lessen the amount of times the family may have to recite painful memories and events. It also lessens the likelihood of additional trauma caused by preventing conflicting orders and conflicting service interventions.
Click here for rules of procedure related to coordinating cases.
Click here for examples of circuit administrative orders related to coordinating cases.
4. Set an expectation for trauma and child development information.
Require child development and trauma information from attorneys, guardians ad litem, juvenile probation officers, child protective investigators, child welfare case managers, domestic violence advocates, parenting coordinators, and treatment providers who appear before the court.
Click here for information on what to expect.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has produced a trauma bench card for judges.
The card offers a series of questions to help gather information necessary to make good decisions for children at risk of traumatic stress disorders. It also contains a sample addendum designed to be copied or scanned and attached to orders for behavioral health assessments.
5. Read the case file with a trauma lens.
When reviewing the file, circle developmental red flags and trauma events.
Click here for a listing of trauma types.
Click here for developmental red flags.
6. Order screening, assessment, and treatment.
When indicated, order screening for trauma exposure and related symptoms and require the use of evidence-based screening tools. Order an evidence-based and culturally appropriate assessment when the screening recommends it, and evidence-based treatment when the assessment shows the need.
Click here for additional information on screening, assessment, and treatment.
Click here for how to learn if therapists and service providers understand trauma.
7. Hold all accountable.
Hold the delinquent youth accountable for completing trauma treatment. Hold the child welfare investigator accountable for gathering information about the parents’ and children’s trauma histories. Hold the case managers accountable for seeking evidence-based, trauma-informed treatment for families. Hold the therapist accountable for using evidence-based treatment. Hold the divorcing couple accountable for respecting the trauma experienced by the children during transitions. Hold the batterer accountable for understanding the trauma experienced by children living in violent homes. Hold the bailiff accountable for maintaining an orderly courtroom and exhibiting calm behavior. Hold the attorneys accountable for considering the parents’ schedules when setting the next court date.
What are they doing Down Under? Click here for a thoughtful view from the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health regarding the importance of considering early childhood development and trauma when developing parenting plans.
What are they doing closer to home? Click here for a guide, prepared by a subcommittee of the Family Law Advisory Group in the 8th circuit, for making parenting time decisions while considering child development.
Click here for the link to the Florida Supreme Court approved supervised/safety-focused parenting plan form. This parenting plan template provides guidance for establishing a plan to protect the children when families are experiencing domestic violence, substance abuse, or other traumas.
8. Be a convener.
Bring community partners together to address trauma and advocate for evidence-based treatment. Issues related to trauma are complex and require that representatives from multiple systems work together. Judges have influence and authority, and are able to call people together and facilitate collaboration.
Click here for tips for conveners.
9. Monitor the data.
Review and analyze data. Learn from the data. Adjust court practices based on your findings. Share promising practices with other judges.
Florida Dependency Court Information System (FDCIS)
FDCIS is for judges, magistrates, and court staff. FDCIS is a web-based case management system that provides the judiciary with resources to ensure timeliness of court events, with a goal of achieving positive outcomes for Florida’s abused and neglected children. For judges, magistrates, court staff only: To request access to the Florida Dependency Court Information System or receive additional information, please contact: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
10. Take care of yourself.
Learn about vicarious trauma, secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout. Know the warning signs, monitor yourself, and take inventory of the balance between work and personal life. Understand that it is normal to be affected by the type of work you do.
Click here for the comprehensive Self-Care Tool Kit from the Office of Court Improvement, Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator.
Click here for research on this subject.
Click here for early warning signs of judicial burnout.
Click here for signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.
Click here for Florida judicial branch’s employee assistance program.
Click here for self-care tips.
Click here for thoughts and strategies for mindfulness expressed to judges from judges.
Click here for additional self-care resources.