A couple of months ago, the Department of Public Safety published a report based on the results of the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey. The anonymous survey is sent to students in grades 5, 8, 9 and 11 every three years as a way to gather information about kids’ attitudes about school and family, for example, as well as about risk factors, including drugs and alcohol. In 2013, the state collected 162,000 responses.
The respondents included 383 kids living in 22 of the state’s 28 juvenile detention facilities with education programs. The report released in May looks at particular risk factors for this group of students — trauma and adverse childhood experiences — and compares the results gathered from children in mainstream schools as well as results gathered from a survey of adults. The idea, of course, is to find correlations between the groups, to see what kind of long-term effects these childhood traumas have had, if any, so the state can do a better job of protecting its youth and resolving behavioral issues presented by traumatized youth.
Some of the findings confirm everyone’s worst fears:
Youth exposed to trauma can struggle with interpersonal relationships and trust. Youth may over- or under-react to perceived threats by acting out aggressively or shutting down emotionally. Disruptive and defiant behavior, emotion-numbing behavior such as substance use, and excessive risk-taking are social and behavioral complications associated with trauma.
The majority of survey respondents from juvenile detention facilities experienced some kind of childhood trauma: Only 18 percent said they had not experienced any adverse childhood experiences. The tragedy is undeniable.
What caught our attention, however, was the report’s finding that the juvenile justice system itself can add to the burdens these kids bear — the justice system may re-traumatize youths by submitting them to extremely stressful situations. The process from arrest to adjudication may pile on to the effects of earlier traumas.
For policymakers, then, the question is how to penalize juvenile delinquency (Minnesota’s term) without ending up with adults who continue the illegal behaviors or, worse, who move on to more serious crimes. If detention, as we said in our July 31 post, only produces a different class of criminal, how would probation work? What about monitoring youthful offenders, but letting them stay at home?
That may not be the answer, either. We’ll continue this in our next post.