Children and youth do not grow up in programs and services; they are nurtured in healthy, vibrant communities. However, in order for them to thrive, it is critical for programs that serve our most vulnerable youth to understand and recognize that young people have experienced all types of trauma—directly or indirectly—from the physical of effects child abuse and neglect to the psychological damage of abject poverty to the long lasting impact of mass incarceration in their neighborhoods. For older youth, the mental scars that these types of trauma leave behind require a model that has healing, hope and care as the focal point of the approach.
From a clinical perspective, this approach is widely known as Trauma Informed Care and is usually applied to child serving systems such as child welfare and juvenile justice. However, Dr. Shawn Ginwright, Associate Professor of Education and Africana Studies at San Francisco State University gives us an alternative way of thinking about the power that this model can have on young people. He describes healing as the process of restoring health and well being to individuals and communities. He emphasizes that this kind of healing for young people can foster a collective optimism and a transformation of spirit that, over time, contributes to healthy, vibrant community life. 
The Andrus Family Fund recognizes the role that healing, hope and care play in developing young people as well as fostering strong, vibrant communities. AFF recently supported like-minded organizations that:
- Meet young people where they are and ensure that the environment that they are in is safe, collaborative and utilizes culturally appropriate practices.
- Utilize a positive youth development approach and build on the strengths and resiliency of young people and their communities.
- Implement programmatic practices that do not re-traumatize young people.
- Train and hire staff that understands, recognizes and can respond to trauma.
- Have trauma informed principles and practices as a core to the development and implementation of their programs and services.
Common Justice is a grantee partner that shows us how this approach can be used to transform the lives of vulnerable youth.
“Ending cycles of violence requires attending to all victims’ pain.”
– Danielle Sered, Director of Common Justice
Common Justice has an unique approach to working with our most vulnerable youth. By working directly with both the young people who commit violent felonies and their victims, they are able to address the issues that caused the crime to happen in the first place as well as create a safe space where all parties can heal and move past this trauma together.
Common Justice provides an alternative to incarceration while still holding young people accountable for their actions. Through compliance with an intensive 15-month violence intervention program as well as “payback” in the forms of community service, financial restitution and/or school/work commitments, they avoid serving time behind bars.
Additionally, Common Justice provides young men of color—who are 10.5 times more likely to be robbed or assaulted—the support services they need. Traditional victims’ services do not often recognize this reality; Common Justice does. They do this by acknowledging their trauma, humanizing their suffering and responding with cultural- and age-appropriate options not offered by the traditional criminal justice system. By engaging with young people in this way, Common Justice gives those harmed by crime a greater sense of closure and healing.
We applaud Common Justice for their work with young men of color, generating alternatives to incarceration that actually foster safer communities and continuing to be an innovator of transformative impact.
Katrina is an experienced and respected leader with more than 15 years of experience working on a national and regional level. She has worked in the non-profit and philanthropic sector, including serving as AFF’s Program Officer. Currently, Katrina is testing how partnerships between philanthropy and government can work on behalf of our most vulnerable youth and their families as the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services. Connect with Katrina on Linkedin.