Once, kids ordered to Williamson County’s Juvenile Justice Center by a judge were met with a military academy culture that focused on building self-discipline and increasing compliance with rules.
Despite some gains, recidivism rates were high, with many youths penetrating further in the justice system. Executive Director Scott Matthew and Assistant Director Matt Smith looked for a better way. Their search led them down several paths, and one was to Round Rock Starry, a local nonprofit known for supporting youths and families in the Child Protective Services and foster care system. Recognizing that kids in the Starry programs have experienced significant trauma, its leadership implemented the internationally recognized Trust-Based Relational Intervention framework.
TBRI, the brainchild of the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, offers innovative approaches for working with traumatized children.
A look at the backgrounds of the youths at the juvenile center revealed that 83% of its residents had been in the CPS system, with 27% of those youths previously removed from their homes.
Recognizing that youths in both systems have similar backgrounds and that many touch both systems, in 2016 Matthew and Smith sought TBRI training for the staff at the juvenile center. Their previous approach wasn’t addressing root causes in most kid’s lives; the staff wanted to make a positive long-term difference in the lives of the kids placed in their care.
Through TBRI training, juvenile agency staff learned how adverse childhood experiences impact normal brain development when toxic stress levels are daily occurrences for children.
So how do children with brains geared for survival operate normally in this world? They struggle. TBRI practitioners blend nurture and structure as they work with kids on their behavioral responses to events and pressures in their lives. The focus is on teaching these youths appropriate coping skills. Mentoring and teaching, not punishment, brings improvement and positive change for the children. Lives can be changed. In many cases, time spent at the juvenile center can be the best thing in these kids’ lives to date.