In some of my previous discussions, I have described my experiences as a juvenile detention officer and what kind of programs the facility has. It seemed that the more I learned throughout this course, the more surprised I was with the lack of trauma-informed programs and practices at my place of work. Considering the frequency with which I see kids who have a plethora of traumatic experiences and mental health problems, I wanted to examine one program we run in the facility and analyze how trauma-informed it truly is.
Generally speaking, the programs that are run within our facility are a means to occupy the minors, keep them active, or fulfill some type of school-based requirement as a primary goal. It appears that having well-rounded, trauma-informed, and healing programs is secondary to that. Along with programs such as sex education and big brothers big sisters, our facility has a yoga instructor come in every week day to lead an hour-long class. Sometimes, the hour of yoga is the only structured physical activity the minors have throughout the day, and therefore, it fulfills their physical education requirement. At times, the youth aren’t engaged in the yoga. Often times, especially if yoga is in the morning, they will just lay there and sleep- claiming that they are “meditating.” Personally, I think it would be helpful to have more discussion with the kids about what kind of impact the yoga has on them and how they can use the time to be mindful, as “Even though a yoga instructor may try to proceed with the best of intentions, they may not realize that without proper training on trauma-informed yoga, they could be leaving certain youth feeling disempowered and marginalized” (OGyoga).
The TIMBo program has three objectives of: providing accessible tools for coping, gain awareness of the body, and begin a process of transformation (Rousseau & Jackson, 2014). The program I am familiar with is essentially just a yoga class, without identifiable objectives, and rarely any discussion with the participants or indication that the class is meant to do more than help them be relaxed or flexible. Benefits of trauma-informed yoga include emotional awareness, increased self-esteem, improved ability to identify negative behavior, improved conflict resolution (OGyoga), decreased anxiety, decreased trauma symptoms, and increased self-compassion (Rousseau & Jackson, 2014). Our current program could provide those same benefits if instructors and staff were trained and youth were engaged in a more meaningful and knowledgeable way.
Trauma-informed services are safe, predictable, structured, and involve repetition in order to avoid triggering trauma reactions, support coping capacities, and provide some kind of benefit from the service (Rousseau, 2021). Overall, I think taking the time, efforts, and resources to update the existing program would be worth it. Often, we are told to be mindful of trauma that the kids experience, but we are given training that seems inadequate and do not provide them with programs that are substantial enough to address their trauma. Especially since incarceration itself can be traumatizing, we need to maximize the potential of existing programs and implement others in order to best serve the youth and help them heal. Although the current program is safe and structured, I do not think it is trauma-informed. The purpose of the program and structure of it was not made to intentionally respond to and aid the youth in this way, therefore, the youth cannot gain the same benefits they would from a truly trauma-informed yoga class.
Burrell, S. (n.d.). Trauma and the environment of care in juvenile institutions. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Retrieved from https://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/trauma_and_environment_of_care_in_juvenile_institutions.pdf
OGyoga. (2018). Benefits of yoga for youth who have experienced trauma. Retrieved from https://www.ogyoga.org/resources/2018/2/8/benefits-of-yoga-for-youth-who-have-experienced-trauma
Rousseau, D. (2021). Module 4: Implementing psychology in the criminal justice system. Retrieved from https://learn.bu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-9312167-dt-content-rid-57732979_1/courses/21fallmetcj725_o2/course/w4/metcj725_ALL_W4.html