Healing is critical to restoring court involved youth, yet absent in the Juvenile Justice system.Posted by Marcia Rincon-Gallardo on
Research shows three out of four system involved youth experience some level of trauma. But a culturally relevant response to said trauma, in the system that so inappropriately touches three out of four, just isn’t there. Our response should restore youth beyond just being functional, but to being whole and thriving.
In many cases, youthful misbehaviors are connected to a traumatic experience or they are the by-products of untreated trauma on the adolescent brain. The younger a child is exposed, the greater the adverse effect on the still developing mind. Jerry Tello, Director of the National Latino Fatherhood and Families Institute and a host of professionals have documented that continued maladaptive behavior is a byproduct of trauma that continues unless otherwise deterred by healing processes. Webster defines healing as: to make sound or whole, to cause an undesirable condition to be overcome or to restore to original integrity.
In order to provide a culturally relevant, healing-informed approach to restore youth we must move away from a generic mainstream approach to trauma. Our current and woefully inadequate response only drives trauma deeper.
This is the basis of the brown paper Lifting Latinos up by their Rootstraps: Moving Beyond Trauma Through a Healing Informed Model to Engage Latino Boys and Men. In it authors Jerry Tello and Frank Acosta argue the path to healing and healthy development is inextricably linked to restoring one’s true cultural identity and recognizing the origins of unhealthy and maladaptive behaviors.
Herein then, is the notion of La cultura cura or as translated, culture cures. La cultura cura is a process of learning and/or remembering one’s true cultural values, principles, customs and traditions. It is a path to learning lessons of honor and the sacredness of relationships, that lead to responsible and healthy personhood.
Research shows that 34 percent of all children in the United States have encountered at least one traumatic incident. Research also shows between 75 and 93 percent of system involved youth experience some traumatic event in their life.
Youth of color—found in disproportionately high numbers in the justice system— are more likely to have experienced violence and being a victim of crime; both of which are forms of trauma. Furthermore, families living in low income areas and single family households experience more violence and become victims of crime.
For communities of color, pile on multigenerational trauma— the shared history of genocide, conquest, cultural domination, oppression, discrimination and marginalization— and it becomes easy to understand why violence plagues our nation. We’re a country full of people plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder.
Given high incidence rates and repeated exposure to traumatic events, the opportunities to heal the effects of violence and victimization are many. But attempts to do so, by any system, are few and far between.
Given the lack of knowledge regarding how communities heal and what constitutes healing, most services provided are counseling or therapy sessions that are expensive and out of reach for many families of color who lack insurance or face dwindling community resources. Yet, in each community of color, there are healing rituals based on cultural teachings and traditions that can inform healing.
Honoring and making space for a healing informed, culturally specific approach to service delivery, is paramount to successfully in stop youth from moving deeper into the system and through its non-stop revolving doors.
This approach employs a multigenerational process of learning and/or remembering one’s true and positive cultural values, principles, customs, and traditions. Youth knowing who they are, where they come from and holding on to their traditional values, are protective factors. To restore this via a healing approach strengthens what already exists, is familiar and/or reclaims new protective factors.
In his 2009 study, Health Disparities in the Latino Community, William Vega Ph.D, shows that first generation immigrants from Mexico showed strong life expectancies. Members of subsequent generations—especially U.S. born children and adolescents—faired less positively in life expectancy. The results of his study suggest that intact emotional supports, intensive social interactions and co-ethnic immigrant social networks of family and friends are protective factors that play a role in healthier outcomes.
A UC Davis study conducted by Sergio Aguilar Gaxiola, Ph.D, found a strong correlation between acculturation, assimilation and mental health. Second generation children of Mexican origin born in the U.S. have higher rates of mental disorders, alcohol and drug dependency than their Mexican-born parents. “People who were more assimilated into the mainstream, in terms of language, the types of television and radio they listen to and so forth, tended to have worse mental health patterns,” Aguilar-Gaxiola said. “Those born in Mexico who remained identified with their language and traditions tended to have better mental health.”
To decrease the use of costly detention beds, decrease recidivism, increase public safety, increase positive outcomes and life expectancies for youth, culturally relevant cures are undoubtedly a fundamental requisite for youth in the justice system.