The recent Juvenile Justice Review questions the relevance of the trauma model for custodial settings. Given that this is the first pubic critique of the model, it raises the question of whether the model will be called into question in the child protection/OoHC space more generally.
The rise and fall of psychological theories of the decades
Psychological theories have risen and fallen over the decades. In Australia, starting in the 1950s/60s, psychoanalysis or Freudian psychology was the dominant psychological theory. The 1970s saw the emergence of behaviourism or behaviour modification; the 1980s saw the rise of group therapy, e.g. guided group interaction; the 1990s saw the rise of the cognitivists, i.e. cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and, finally, in the mid-2000s, saw the emergence of the so-called trauma model (see side bar). Treatment interventions in OoHC and juvenile justice have closely paralleled these trends.
The critique of the Trauma Model
The Review acknowledges that youth justice services should not re-traumatise young people but critiques the trauma model on two grounds:
- It questions whether custodial staff sufficiently understand the model to put it into practice. With a wonderful sense of understatement, it states:
The Review is concerned that the application of this model in a custodial setting is extremely ambitious. The Review is not convinced that staff sufficiently understand, nor can put into practice, the essential elements of what is fundamentally a clinical approach to a therapeutic intervention.
Translating this [trauma] model into a non-clinical sense is ambitious and challenging. (Part 2:Page 48)
- More importantly, the Review questions whether all offenders are victims of trauma and, if this is the case, whether the trauma is the causal factor behind the offending.
Trauma-informed approaches are not part of the solution to address and reduce offending. It is well established that the majority of highly traumatised young people do not offend.
However, it must be clearly understood that while addressing trauma in a young person is necessary to meet their mental health needs, it is not sufficient to reduce their level of risk of re offending. (Part 2:Page 48)
This is a devastating critique. Not only does the trauma approach not reduce offending, it is additionally very difficult to implement.
What it means for child protection and OoHC services?
The question now is whether this critique will spread to trauma-informed care models that currently underpin most child protection and OoHC services. For example, in Victoria, ‘therapeutic residential care’ is based on the trauma models of Bruce Perry and/or Sandra Blooms’ Sanctuary Model. All agencies proclaim themselves to be ‘trauma informed’.
However, anecdotally, there is evidence that providers of residential care are implementing behavioural programs (e.g. Positive Behaviour Programs (PBP) and Teaching Family Home (TFH) concurrently with ‘trauma informed care’). Ten years ago, this would have been unthinkable; behavioural approaches were considered an anathema to the trauma proponents.
Personally, I do not see the trauma model passing into the ‘dustbin’ of history. Rather, the time of trauma-informed models being the only intervention available to Practitioners is over. All services will remain, or strive to be, trauma informed but increasingly will be supplemented with other approaches – these are likely to be behavioural in nature.
 Youth Justice Review and Strategy: Meeting Needs and Reducing Offending conducted by Penny Armytage, former Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation, and Professor James Ogloff AM, Director of the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science at Swinburne University