Category Archives: Research

Trauma and Youth

Some wise words from Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on trauma.

“Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.” (From TED talk page)

There is a measurement for childhood trauma: the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences). ACE measures the quantity of traumatic experiences of youth. A Florida study found that 50% of incarcerated youth have ACE scores of 4 events (or more). The general population is about 13%.

This means two things:

  • We must have trauma informed teaching with our vulnerable youth populations (ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities)
  • We must have trauma informed practices and buildings when we work with youth who have committed crimes

It is true, what we have been saying. These are not kids with a crime problem. They are kids with a trauma problem.

Child Sex Abuse

One More Time
By Sue Magrath

Child sexual abuse is a silent and insidious cancer that eats away at the lives of its victims. It is conducted in silence and perpetuated in silence. Victims are often admonished never to speak about what is happening to them, and these warnings are often accompanied by threats of violence against the victim, their families, or their pets if they ever dare to tell someone about the abuse. Unfortunately, this silence comes at a cost. It is said that what is unspoken becomes unspeakable. In other words, the enormity of what a victim has suffered and the impact of the abuse on their lives grows and thrives in silence and secrecy. When abuse is not spoken about, healing is not possible.

A pastor acquaintance of mine recently told me a touching story of healing that speaks to this issue of silence. Years ago, Claire was conducting a movie theology group in her congregation. During one gathering, a film that portrayed an abusive marital relationship was being viewed by the group. Gradually, Claire began to notice that the behavior of one of the young woman in attendance was becoming more and more agitated. Her discomfort was evident. During a break, the pastor drew the young woman, Debra, aside and asked her if she was okay. After much hesitation, Debra finally shared that she had been raped by her grandfather when she was a young girl. Claire listened and validated her discomfort with the movie, then invited her to come by the church office the next day to talk more about this traumatic event.

Debra did come to Claire’s office as she had been asked and told her story for the first of many times. She shared with Claire that she was the first person to hear her narrative of abuse. Debra had kept this secret for many years until the impact of a movie’s portrayal of abuse unleashed her own painful story. This began a ritual that went on for several years. Debra would stop by Claire’s office and ask her if she had time to hear the story again. Claire would always respond with, “One more time.” Ultimately, it took forty times before Debra had purged herself of the cancer of abuse and received the gift of listening that led to healing. She eventually got married and had children and was able to live a normal and happy life.

Unfortunately, there are many, many stories about child sexual abuse that do not have happy endings. Statistics report that somewhere between thirty and fifty percent of incarcerated women experienced sexual abuse as children. Sixty percent of men and women in drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities likewise report episodes of childhood sexual abuse. This is corroborated by the seventy to eighty percent of adult survivors who acknowledge excessive use of drugs and alcohol as a means to cope with the aftermath of their abuse. In addition, a full seventy-five percent of prostitutes were victims of child sexual abuse. I have to wonder what would have been different for these hundreds of thousands of survivors had they had someone like Claire to tell their story to, someone who would listen without judgment and be a compassionate and loving presence in their lives.

The fact that it took Debra forty times of breaking the silence before she was done strikes me as a vital part of her healing. The number forty figures prominently in biblical narratives. The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, and Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness for forty days and nights before beginning his earthly ministry. Certainly, the wilderness experience is an apt metaphor for the bleak and barren aftermath of child sexual abuse. It takes a lot of wandering to find your way after the trauma of abuse. It takes time. The experience may feel like fasting, where there is no sustenance or nourishment for body or soul. And the desert is a lonely place, often with no signposts to tell you where you are or where you’re headed. You can take a lot of wrong turns in the wilderness. And often, something that looks like it might be an oasis turns out to be a mirage. This makes it hard for survivors to trust anything that looks like hope. They might turn away from people who offer help, fearing that it will just be more of the same disappointment or abandonment they’ve suffered in the past. But Debra’s experience with Claire offers hope for something new, something that opens the floodgates of suppressed emotions that hold one back from healing and restoration. And in the sharing of the story, the breaking of the silence, healing can happen.

So, if you are a survivor of child sexual abuse, find someone to tell your story to. Tell it again and again, until you don’t need to tell it any more. Let their caring and nurturing spirit help you heal. And if you are someone whose vocation leads you to walk with those who have painful stories to tell, listen! Listen with compassion. Hold their story gently, offering no advice or platitudes, only your deep sorrow over their suffering and the assurance that they didn’t deserve what happened to them. Be patient, for it might indeed take forty times. And remember that sometimes, when you think you can’t listen any more, you’ll find, with the help of God, that you can do it one more time.

Sue Magrath is author of the recently released book, Healing the Ravaged Soul: Tending the Spiritual Wounds of Child Sexual Abuse. She is a native of Washington State and currently lives in Leavenworth. Her many years of working with survivors of child sexual abuse as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director led her to write this book, sharing a side of abuse that is rarely recognized or discussed. The book is available through Amazon or Cokesbury.

Photo attribution:

U.S. Fotografie,

Being a Remembrancer

I found this to be spot on!

“Prison Chaplain — a ‘remembrancer’
In such a context, I think, the easy distinction between ministry that is unquestioningly supportive and one that is prophetically transforming does not actually make a great deal of sense. It’s true that, because of the isolation of people from their usual support systems, confrontation, and the explicit call to repentance or change, are not likely to be helpful, to say the least; they may have short term effect — but only as another way of offering a new and ‘safe’ identity in a strange land. But a ministry that asks no questions will not, as I’ve said, bring people nearer to what will genuinely feed or sustain them. The notion that seems to me to capture what most matters here is that of a ministry of ‘reminding’. The chaplain, to use an old fashioned word, is a ‘remembrancer’. Central to a ministry conceived in these terms is the patience to explore the vulnerability that underlies the pressure towards reinventing yourself in the way that new institutions encourage. Central also is the willingness to work with someone to bring to light a vital sense of what in fact has made them the person they are, what still shapes reactions and expressed instincts.”

Click to access jr7.pdf

How much do dropouts cost us?

Claudia Rowe, January 3, 2014, The Seattle Times Blog

Plenty of educators opine vaguely about the costs to society when a student drops out of school. But in 2011, an economist and professor of public policy at Columbia University dug into the numbers to tally the actual dollar figures, and they are stunning.

Of 40 million Americans between 16 and 24, about 6.7 million are neither in school nor employed. About half are high school droupouts; the others may have a GED. All are underemployed, if they work at all.

To taxpayers, each of these so-called “opportunity youths” imposes a lifetime cost of about $235,680 in welfare payments, food stamp, criminal justice and medical care. Multiply that across the full 6.7 million cohort and the hit is nearly incomprehensible: $1.6 trillion.

“The economic consequences of opportunity youth are enormous,” write authors Clive Belfield, Henry Levin and Rachel Rosen in “The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth,” which was published in 2011.

Because they are far more likely to be in jail, use welfare or live on food stamps, each youth costs us about $13,890 each year. That’s a lot more than the $5,000 Washington state spends per student in the public schools.

But policy-makers in Olympia have come up with a promising answer, a way to get our 30,000 youngest dropouts back on track and save state taxpayers billions of dollars.

Stay tuned for more on that in the next full-length Education Lab story, coming later this month. In the meantime, consider the implications of failing to act.

Young people who drop out of school make only $4,000 a year – if they can find work at all – contributing about $750 to public coffers. Others in their age group, while hardly commanding princely sums, earn an average $13,900 annually and pay $2,400 in taxes. Resulting taxes that opportunity youth could be contributing: $11.3 billion each year.

“These numbers show how much is being squandered,” the authors write.

The crush only mounts from there: more criminal activity, more use of welfare and food stamps. More Medicaid.

Consider that 63 percent of all youth crime nationally is committed by kids who have dropped out of school or failed to find a way into higher education. Their incarceration and court costs saddle us with a $76.7 billion annual bill – not including the financial hit to their victims in medical care, lost work time or insurance adjustments.

For welfare and food stamps, the pattern is predictable: Opportunity youth receive $9,660 more in lifetime welfare payments than those who graduate from high school, for an aggregate annual burden of $65.1 billion.

You get the picture.

Of course, kids who drop out of school do, technically, represent a certain savings on education spending, though you can almost hear the researchers wincing as they note this.

“Emphatically, the future burden of opportunity youth is far greater than the immediate burden,” they note. “That is, the real economic loss from opportunity youth is that these youth will not progress through adulthood being economically independent. The immediate burden is approximately one-quarter of the full burden.”

Long Term Juvenile Incarceration

Have you seen OJJDP’s study on long term incarceration of juveniles?

Just a few key points:

Finding #1: Longer stays in juvenile facilities do not reduce reoffending; institutional placement raised offending levels in even those with the lowest level of offending.

Finding #2: Adolescents who have committed serious offenses are not necessarily on track for adult criminal careers.

Finding #3: Substance use is a major factor in continued criminal activity by serious adolescent offenders.

Seattle Office of the Community Police Commission Survey

As part of the ACLU’s work in support of efforts to promote police accountability, they wanted to let you know about an opportunity to contribute to the work of the Seattle Office of the Community Police Commission. The Commission is seeking opinions from community members about the Seattle Police Department. You can find out more about the work of the Commission here, and you can take the survey here.

Upcoming Event: Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome

Dr. Joy DeGruy author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”

to Speak at the Edmonds School District Thursday 10/24, 7-9:30 p.mFrom Darlene Flynn, City of Seattle:

“Hello all,

In collaboration with the Edmonds School District, The Hazel Miller Foundation, Communities of Color Coalition and Families of Color United In Service (FOCUIS), I am excited and proud to let you all know we will be hosting Dr. Joy DeGruy author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” to Speak at the Edmonds School District Thursday October 24th 7-9:30 p.m.

This event is FREE and seating is limited.

The Edmonds School District is located at:

20420 68th Ave W Lynnwood, WA 98036 (just south of Edmonds Community College)

Dr. DeGruy is the foremost expert on Black historical trauma and its effects on the community today.

Dr. DeGruy’s presentation is a call for us all to identify the manifestations of trauma, a call to healing and a call to action.

We look forward to you seeing you Thursday October 24th from 7-9:30 p.m. at the Edmonds School District!

For more information on events like this, please join FOCUIS on Facebook

Daniel VanArsdale
Director of Families of Color United In Service (FOCUIS)

Youth in Adult Prisons

From a study by the NCJRS:

Major findings:

  • Approximately 107,000 youth (younger than 18) are incarcerated on any given day.
  • Of these, approximately 14,500 are housed in adult facilities. The largest proportion, approximately 9,100 youth, are housed in local jails, and some 5,400 youth are housed in adult prisons.
  • Of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, 44 house juveniles (age 17 and younger) in adult jails and prisons.
  • In recent years, the number of youth in jails has escalated, while the number in prisons has stabilized or declined.
  • The actual number of youth who experience incarceration in an adult prison is much higher than the number shown by a 1-day count, with an estimated 13,876 juvenile state prison admissions in 1997. There are no current estimates of the number of youth admitted to jails each year.
  • In terms of their legal status while incarcerated, 21 percent were held as adjudicated juvenile offenders or pretrial detainees, and 75 percent were sentenced as adults