NASW webinar focuses on Trauma Informed Assessments

By Rena Malai, News staff

The Lunchtime Series webinar “Use of Trauma Informed Assessments of Youth entering the Juvenile Justice System” explores the impact of early childhood trauma on juvenile justice involvement. The webinar  also  discusses the need for social workers to become trauma informed and to use a range of assessments that help determine exposure to adverse childhood experiences.

“Studies show that young people who have been exposed to childhood trauma have a higher propensity to be in the juvenile justice system,” said Mel Wilson, manager of NASW’s Department of Social Justice and Human Rights. “If they find evidence of childhood trauma, they can then apply methods to mitigate the problem behavior.”

According to the webinar, which was presented in January, nearly every researcher agrees that early childhood traumas (those that happen before the age of six) lie at the root of most long-term depression and anxiety, and many emotional and psychological illnesses. Severe traumas can even alter the very chemistry and physiology of the brain itself.

The webinar also says that — based on research findings — aggressive behavior, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder can develop when a child witnesses violence, is sexually or physically abused, and/or lives in an environment that exposes him or her to violence.

The Centers for Disease Control has studied this issue for a number of years. In a major study conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente, researchers looked at a range of health and behavioral health consequences of exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE).  The ACE studies, and the assessments derived from the studies, have become the standard for working with clients where early childhood trauma is suspected. ACE assessments include an instrument that allows professionals to score the depth of exposure to adverse childhood experiences, such as children of separated or divorced parents, as well as those who suffer verbal abuse, physical abuse or witness domestic violence.

These and other factors are used as the basis for determining an ACE Score. Such scores are helpful in developing intervention plans for the client, Wilson said.

He added that it is important for  social workers to recognize that applying trauma informed assessments may have preventive value. For example, for youths that have been exposed to childhood trauma but are not yet exhibiting delinquent behavior, a trauma informed assessment could help steer the child in a better direction and away from the juvenile justice system.

“Training to become trauma informed is important not only for social workers, but for anyone working with juveniles and young adults in the juvenile system,” Wilson said.

For more information, members can register and view the webinar at www.socialworkers.org.

Other information on childhood trauma can be found at: the Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention: www.ojjdp.gov.

From the March 2013 NASW News

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