November 01, 2012

ABA Project to Help Children Experiencing Multiple Traumas

Claire Chiamulera

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

While preparing for a dependency court hearing, Laura’s attorney, Susan, finds that Laura spent years shuffling between foster homes as a result of her mother’s neglect and her stepfather’s sexual abuse. As a result, Laura faced bullying at school and often ran away to avoid taunts.  Once, while hiding in a park, she witnessed a violent attack and was threatened with a similar beating if she reported the crime. Susan finds Laura withdrawn and difficult to engage. When she does react, Laura is often angry. Susan is concerned about Laura’s mental health and suspects she needs trauma-specific services.

This is just one of many cases of abuse, crime and community violence involving children. To hear of children becoming victims of any one of these acts is heart wrenching.  Some children, like Laura, face multiple traumas—they experience polyvictimization.

They may be bullied, sexually abused or face other mistreatment.  According to the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, nearly 40 percent of children reported multiple instances of direct victimization in the previous year.  Youth who have been exposed to more than one trauma are at greater risk of long-term mental, physical and emotional effects than other children.

To help judges, lawyers and other legal professionals identify children who are victims of polyvictimization, the ABA Center on Children and the Law is undertaking a project that will provide trainings, online and print resources, and technical assistance for legal and allied professionals. The effort is funded through a grant from the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs at the U.S. Department of Justice.

The teachings and information are meant to guide the response to youth who face polyvictimization, including trauma-informed legal advocacy and judicial decision making for court-involved children and youth.

A CLP article series will explore various aspects of polyvictimization with an emphasis on what frontline legal practitioners need to know:

  • What polyvictimization is and how to recognize it in your cases.
  • How to prepare for court hearings and prepare the child for court.
  • How to coordinate with other system players—criminal justice, education, mental health, child welfare, health care, among others.

If there are specific topics you’d like CLP to cover in this area, e-mail