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Painful Secrets: Helping Traumatized Girls in Pennsylvania's Juvenile Justice System

NCJ Number
Pennsylvania Progress Volume: 7 Issue: 4 Dated: Spring 2001 Pages: 1-8
Date Published
8 pages
This paper describes a 2-year effort to develop and field test a flexible but effective treatment response to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in delinquent female adolescents and to provide education regarding PTSD and its effects to virtually everyone in Pennsylvania's juvenile justice system whose responsibilities bring them into contact with girls.
PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that sometimes stems from a life-threatening event. It is essentially a long-lasting response to the event. According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, 7.8 percent of Americans, including 10.4 percent of women, will suffer from PTSD at some point in their lives. There is reason to believe that the disorder is much more common among girls who become involved with the juvenile justice system. In Pennsylvania, among the first 461 female detention center residents assessed as part of a mental health screening pilot project, approximately half reported having suffered traumatic experiences. An important part of Pennsylvania's response to the influx of traumatized girls into the juvenile system is the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Project. Launched in the year 2000, the project involves a massive statewide PTSD education and training program for juvenile justice professionals. In addition to introducing trainees to what is known about PTSD, its causes and effects, the cluster of symptoms associated with it, and the ways people have learned to control the symptoms, the curriculum guides trainees through the process of helping adolescent girls confront their traumas and their feelings about them. This process includes many hands-on activities, including role-playing exercises, art projects, games, ceremonies, and other techniques that supplement and stimulate spoken communication. Assessing the treatment curriculum's impact on program participants, as well as field testing it in other settings will be part of the work of the project's second year. 4 notes

Date Published: January 1, 2001