Trauma Victim Treatment Program
TCSI's Trauma Treatment program provides training and technical assistance to the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD) in the area of traumatic stress disorders among juvenile justice involved youth with a special focus on girls and boys who are victims of domestic human sex trafficking.
About Childhood Trauma
Childhood traumas vary from physical and sexual abuse to community and domestic violence, life-threatening illness, natural disasters and the sudden loss of parents, siblings and other loved ones. Though children are resilient, they can also be profoundly affected by these experiences. Studies have shown that untreated childhood trauma leads to a higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as depression and a greater likelihood of substance abuse. Physical symptoms include abnormal physical responses to stress and even the risk of chronic physical conditions such as heart and lung disease. Despite the prevalence and far-reaching implications of child traumatic stress, it remains one of our most under recognized public health problems. (National Child Traumatic Stress Network – www.nctsn.org).
The good news is that childhood traumatic stress is one of the most treatable mental health problems of childhood. Children who receive timely and appropriate screening and treatment may not only recover, but gain the tools and capacity to cope more successfully with future stress and to avoid some of the potentially serious consequences of such trauma.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) was established by Congress in 2000 to bring a singular and comprehensive focus to childhood trauma. The NCTSN has implemented a Learning Collaborative approach that focuses on spreading, adopting and adapting best practices across multiple settings and on creating changes in organizations that promote the delivery of effective interventions and services. The ultimate goal is to provide high-quality training in best practices of trauma focused treatments in diverse settings and to ensure the sustained use of those practices. TCSI is part of the NCTSN’s Learning Collaborative that is working to adapt trauma and grief component therapy to juvenile justice settings, particularly with teen girls who are victims of domestic human sex trafficking.
Harris County Juvenile Certification
Harris County has the largest number of juvenile justice involved youth in the state of Texas and has certified more adolescent offenders as adults than the next six largest counties in Texas combined. Yet recent studies show that the only difference between youth transferred to adult criminal court and those that remain in the juvenile justice system for rehabilitation is the county in which they are convicted. (Dietch, M. (2011). Juveniles in the Adult Criminal Justice System in Texas. Austin, TX: Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.)
Such findings, combined with a series of crises in both state and county juvenile justice systems have opened the door for alternative approaches to certification in Harris County.
Through the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, for example, the County has been working to reduce juvenile crime by focusing on the mental health needs of juvenile offenders and their families. The local Mental Health Court, Gang Court, Girl’s Court, deferred prosecution program and GED program all emerged from this effort. Subsequent drops in both detention and juvenile crime have encouraged the County to consider other mental health initiatives.
TCSI SAFE Project
TCSI’s SAFE Project is one such mental health initiative that has made a tremendous difference in the outcomes of juvenile justice involved youth in Harris County. As a part of the NCTSN Learning Collaborative, TCSI is one of only 30 organizations nationwide that has received specialized training in Trauma and Grief Component Therapy for Adolescents (TGCT-A), adapted for juvenile justice settings. TGCT-A has been specifically designed for adolescents whose histories of polyvictimization, community violence exposure, and traumatic grief put them at high risk for severe persisting distress, functional impairment and developmental disruption.
With its training in TGCT-A, TCSI screens HCJPD youth for exposure to traumatic events and concurrent traumatic stress, grief and depression symptoms and designs individualized treatment plans for those who show evidence of such trauma based issues. Those needing longer term treatment are referred to TCSI’s residential program where they receive 24 weeks of group therapy that provides a supportive social atmosphere where traumatic experiences can be disclosed, explored and reinterpreted and effective coping skills can be learned and practiced.
Next Steps for SAFE
The next phase of the SAFE project will build upon the activities that have taken place thus far as follows:
- Enhance and expand trauma informed screening, assessment and treatment planning procedures at juvenile justice facilities in Harris County to include more girls and to include boys who currently are not part of the program
- Integrate an evidence-based trauma focused intervention adapted specifically for juvenile justice populations into current treatment protocols
- Complete the HCJPD trauma informed systems transformation already initiated to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of screening, assessment, treatment planning and trauma-focused therapy.
- Define and document a model of care that other juvenile justice programs may follow.
Data from the first phase of this project shows the following:
- 53.7% of HCJPD-referred youth receiving screening and assessment met DSM criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - a diagnostic category that was created originally for war combatants and disaster victims but that also applies to victims of other traumatic experiences, including exposure to violence
- 100% had been exposed to multiple types of traumatic events
- 86.8% had experienced traumatic loss or bereavement
- 76.3% had been exposed to community violence.
If the 53.7% data for those screened to date hold for the more than 15,750 youth referred to HCJPD annually, then more than 8,400 youth may be diagnosable for PTSD and even more have been exposed to the crucial distinctive types of traumatic stress characteristic of juvenile justice populations.
For more information about TCSI's SAFE program and how you can help, please contact Robert Woods or Marylou Erbland at 713.426.4545.