Fred Butcher, Case Western Reserve University – Trauma in Youth

Fred-Butcher1Exposure to trauma early on may lead to bad decisions in your youth.

Fred Butcher, research associate with the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University, explores how treating trauma in children may be the best way to keep them from coming back to a jail cell in the future.

Fredrick Butcher, Ph.D is a Research Associate with the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University’s Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

Dr. Butcher’s research areas include youth violence, trauma, juvenile justice, and measurement in criminal justice research. His work often focuses on children and adolescents in areas ranging from young people in the juvenile justice system to the effects of exposure to violence (either directly as a victim or indirectly as a witness at school, as is widely reported.)

His writing has been published in a number of journals including Research on Social Work Practice, Law Enforcement Executive Forum, Police Practice and Research, and Criminal Justice Policy Review.

Fred recently co-authored a 200+ page report for the State of Ohio on the Behavioral Health and Juvenile Justice (BHJJ) program.

Trauma in Youth


Social science research over the last several decades has established that children’s exposure to violence is a widespread and significant problem.  This is particularly true for those involved in the juvenile justice system.  As a result of exposure to violence, youth can often develop symptoms of trauma which can increase their risk for further delinquent and criminal behavior.  Unfortunately, juvenile justice systems often do not effectively screen for and treat trauma.

My colleagues and I examined data from 2,200 youth with behavioral health issues who were diverted from incarceration and placed in community-based treatment.  We were interested in the how aspects of neighborhoods, violence, and trauma affect these youth.  Many live in disadvantaged neighborhoods with higher rates of crime and thus have a higher likelihood of being exposed to violence.  As we expected, we found that exposure to violence was predictive of trauma symptoms.

We then turned our attention to the impact of trauma on social relationships.  The data showed that trauma symptoms can negatively impact the ability of young people to build and maintain social relationships.  Taking these two findings into account, trauma that often comes from exposure to violence serves as a major impediment to building the very kind of social relationships that provide a natural support group that protect these young people from the effects of violence exposure.

Trauma plays a large role in a young person’s continued involvement with the justice system. And understanding the impact of trauma on youth in  building resilience can help reduce the likelihood of continued involvement with the justice system.  While we may not be able to change the environment that these youth are in, the data show that effective assessment and treatment for trauma should be an important focus of their rehabilitation.