Trauma Crossover Youth Project

How does exposure to trauma affect the likelihood of youth moving from the child welfare system into the juvenile justice system?

Data tell stories. One story is that a disproportionate number of children who are in the child welfare system cross over into the juvenile justice system. If we can understand this story in detail—such as the characteristics and experiences of the youth who cross over—we can know how to interrupt this path.

The Trauma Crossover Youth Project is designed to help us understand and intervene on the path between child welfare and the juvenile justice system. This study focuses specifically on the impact of trauma. We know that trauma exposure is high among child welfare and juvenile justice populations. What we don’t know is how the combined impact of trauma and family and community factors affect the likelihood of a young person will be involved in both systems.

If we can understand how these factors affect youth—including the impact of timing and repetition of trauma—we will be better able to develop effective policy, programming and services. This study will help youth-serving organizations better recognize and address trauma, and to identify the best points for intervention.

This projects draws on data from a cohort of children in one county’s child welfare system. We use linked administrative data to track if they are arrested, incarcerated or have any other justice system involvement. Information on children’s trauma experiences is combined with other characteristics, including their personal strengths, child welfare history, and community factors. Looking at this data together enables us to assess the conditions associated with youth crossing over into the juvenile justice system and to correlate those conditions with particular types of involvement.

Chapin Hall’s Dr. Leah Gjertson leads a team of researchers and analysts on this work, including Shannon Guiltinan, Mike Stiehl, Shen Han, Neil Miller and Dr. Kaela Byers. Together, they are partnering with public agencies to use data to tell a story that will shape policy and practice to prevent youth engagement with the juvenile justice system.

This work is funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention at the U.S. Dept. of Justice. A final report on this work will be submitted to the Dept. of Justice in late 2018. For more information about this work, contact Dr. Gjertson.