Trauma among Girls in the Juvenile Justice System

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The National Child Traumatic Stress Network on 05/07/2015 by Patricia K. Kerig, Ph.D., and Julian D. Ford, Ph.D.

With rates of arrests for girls in the United States fast outpacing those for boys, the past decade has seen increasing attention devoted to understanding the causes, consequences, and solutions for girls’ delinquency. Girls now account for approximately 30 percent of the estimated 2.11 million juvenile arrests made each year, and on any given day more than 7,800 girls reside in detention or juvenile corrections facilities in the US (Puzzanchera & Adams, 2011). Notably, it is among violent offenses that the greatest increases in arrest rates for girls are seen. For example, between 1980 and 2005, rates of arrest for violent offenses—including physical assault, sexual assault, and homicide–increased 78 percent for girls while declining 6 percent for boys (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2006). Research also is emerging to suggest that girls in the justice system evidence higher levels of exposure to trauma and victimization (Ford, Grasso, Hawke, & Chapman, 2013; Kerig & Becker, 2012) and demonstrate significantly higher levels of mental health problems, including PTSD, in comparison to their male peers (Marston, Russell, Obsuth, & Watson, 2012). In sum, the growing number of girls in the justice system—and the adverse impact that traumatic stress and related mental health problems has on these girls—pose special challenges and responsibilities for juvenile justice prevention and intervention programs