Treating Trauma Before Anger Gets Teens In Trouble


By Suzanne Bates

Latino youth make up a disproportionate number of the teens who are arrested in Connecticut, and studies show that young people who end up in the juvenile justice system are more than twice as likely to have experienced some kind of trauma in their lives.
A national center based in Connecticut has developed a program to help teens who have experienced trauma in their lives to learn to control their anger before it gets them in trouble – or back into trouble.
The Center for Trauma Recovery and Juvenile Justice, which is based at the University of Connecticut Health Center, provides training for people – including judges, probation officers, teachers and parents – who work with teens who have been arrested or are at risk for arrest.
One of the programs is called “TARGET,” which stands for “Trauma Affect Regulation: Guide for Education and Therapy.” Teens in the program are taught about the response that occurs in their brain when they experience stress.
As the teens learn about what is happening in their brains, they also learn that they can control their response, said Dr. Julian Ford, a psychiatrist and the lead researcher at the center.
It seems too simple, but research done by Ford at juvenile detention centers in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford, showed that when juvenile offenders went through the program they acted out less and spent less time in isolation while in jail.
“They really want to know what’s going on in their brains,” said Ford. “They like being the experts.”
In a paper published in the Journal of Aggression Maltreatment and Trauma on the research, one young man is quoted as saying, “Maybe I wasn’t just born bad or too stupid to know how to do right. I never knew that an alarm in me was in control, but now that I do I’m taking back the control.”
The center is working with several groups in Connecticut and elsewhere in an effort to get the program out into the community, so more young people and their families can be taught how to manage the stress they experience in their lives.
The types of trauma experienced by teens in the criminal justice system include domestic violence, severe neglect, or sexual abuse, according to Rocio Chang-Angulo, a psychologist and researcher with the center.
Chang-Angulo said it often helps to work with the whole family, because parents of children in the juvenile justice system may also have experienced trauma and may not know how to help their children.
Statistics released by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network show that nationally Latino children are less likely to experience sexual violence, but are more likely to experience domestic violence, and are three times as likely as white children to experience community violence.
“We don’t want to blame the parents – they’ve often gone through a lot too,” said Chang-Angulo. “The whole community needs to embrace this and think about how to support families.”
As part of the program the teens are taught to remember SOS – Slow Down, Orient Yourself, and then do a Self-check.