Q & A: Former Gang Member Turns Life Around with Trauma-Informed Care

Mar. 12, 2014 / By

Ed. Note: With emotional trauma afflicting an estimated 75 percent of children in the U.S. juvenile justice system, the Sierra Health Foundation recently launched the Positive Youth Justice Initiative (PYJI), a grant initiative that aims to encourage a “trauma-informed” approach to working with youth in custody. The initiative will direct grant dollars towards establishing key youth development practices, primarily in probation departments, in Alameda, San Diego, San Joaquin, and Solano counties.

Chief among those PYJI practices is trauma-informed care.  Probation departments will be adopting this skill set in order for their staff to better serve young individuals who have histories of childhood abuse or other types of violent or trauma-inducing experience. Probation officers will be learning and also teaching other criminal justice staff about the impact of trauma on a survivor’s life, so that they can identify symptoms of trauma among their youth, and can avoid re-triggering trauma among survivors. Where adopted, the trauma-informed approach fosters a learning environment where clients become empowered consumers of care that advocate for the type of care that works for them and learn how to understand and heal themselves.

While trauma-informed care is gaining popularity among human service organizations, the PJJI initiative is the second in the country to use the method to specifically target “crossover youth” – foster youth who commit crimes and cross over to the juvenile justice system. Crossover youth are highly likely to be experiencing trauma and in need of services as they not only come with histories of childhood abuse and neglect, but they also have been placed in two institutions that are known to have a detrimental effect on youthful minds.

Richmond Pulse’s Sean Shavers spoke with Jesse Esparza, an 18-year-old youth mentor, who spent time in juvenile hall after the foster care system removed him from his parents’ home, about how a PYJI-affiliated organization, Fathers and Families of San Joaquin, helped him transform his life. 

Read the interview at Richmond Pulse

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