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???????????The American Bar Association is having its 3rd Annual Parents Attorneys Conference this week in Washington, DC. The purpose of the meetings is to improve the skills needed to represent court-involved children and youth. This year a full day is devoted to addressing the effects of exposure to multiple forms of victimization and trauma on this population. Experts from around the country will be discussing topics that include the effects of trauma on children and youth, trauma-focused assessment and treatment, legal implications of trauma, and integrating trauma information into everyday practice.

I’m a member of the panel discussing Integrating Trauma Information into Daily Legal Practice. I’ll be sharing ideas about how best to communicate with clients whose history includes victimization and trauma. Others on the panel will share strategies for using trauma-informed information to secure appropriate treatment for clients, and how to apply models of trauma-informed legal advocacy in dependency and delinquency cases.

As I prepare for this presentation, my thoughts keep returning to these three “rules of engagement”:

Be proactive. Use what you know about the effects of trauma to put meaningful accommodations in place that become standard procedures in your practice. These will help to engage clients whose early trauma histories are not necessarily recorded in words but rather in the behaviors they exhibit in their lives. In your mind’s eye, replace the traditional question “What’s wrong with you?” with the more trauma-informed inquiry “What happened to you?”

Avoid direct confrontation. Court-involved children and youth often display what appear to be defiant or incorrigible behaviors. The authority of your role may trigger these reactions. Know how to use redirection, de-escalation, and stress management techniques to help clients stay focused and cooperative.

Know the source of the behavior. Traumatic memories are different than memories embedded in words. They are nonverbal and sensory in nature. They are experienced in the body, not the mind. The feelings of threat are real. Breaking their hold on clients can only be achieved by uncoupling the feelings of the past from the reality of the present situation. Frequent reminders of the differences between past and present levels of threat, as well as availability of resources, helps clients control and manage the “tyranny of their midbrain”.

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