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Childhood Trauma and Its Effects: Implications for Police

NCJ Number
Date Published
July 2015
22 pages

One in a series of papers derived from Harvard's Executive Session on Policing, this paper summarizes current knowledge of the effects of ongoing trauma on young children, how these effects impair adolescent and young-adult functioning, and implications of such trauma effects for police interactions with juveniles and young adults.


The focus of this paper is on children who suffer from repeated exposure to violence as observers or victims and who lack the parental nurture and protection needed to cope constructively with their stress. The resulting psychiatric impairments and associated dysfunctional problem behaviors increase the risk that these children and youth will have encounters with police. These psychological and developmental impairments are discussed in detail in this paper. There are three areas of policing in which officers must be trained with the understanding and skill needed to manage encounters with these traumatized individuals. One of the policing areas discussed pertains to operations that deal with violence that involves children as victims or witnesses. A second circumstance is when police encounter individuals suffering from emotional and behavioral issues related to the trauma derived from abusive treatment and the absence of parental support. A third circumstance that police may face with traumatized children and youth is when a suspect in police custody or under interrogation exhibits behaviors symptomatic of a history of trauma. Officers must be trained to recognize trauma symptoms in juveniles and make appropriate referrals, as should be done with anyone having a mental disorder. Police decisionmaking and actions in these three types of encounters must be informed by knowledge of the symptoms of trauma and how best to interact with and manage persons suffering from trauma. Approximately 60 references

Date Published: July 1, 2015