Using neuroscience to understand why some young people offend

By Jen Willis, Communications Consultant, Berry Street – Take Two 

A Judge and some magistrates now have a better understanding of developmental trauma and neglect, and how they might impact the behaviours of the young people they are sentencing.

Berry Street’s Take Two program recently delivered professional development for the South Australian Youth Court. The Court deals with children facing criminal charges, as well as child protection cases.

Take Two’s Clare Ryan delivered the sessions about how childhood neglect and abuse can cause developmental trauma, as well as a high-level overview of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT).

The NMT Metric is a unique assessment tool developed by world-renowned US child psychiatrist Dr Bruce D. Perry and his organisation, the Child Trauma Academy. The NMT uses growing evidence from neurodevelopmental research and trauma research to teach us about how the brain is impacted by abuse, neglect and other traumatic experiences. It helps guide interventions for infants, children and young people based on a clinical assessment of their developmental need and capacity. Using a web-based application, the NMT Metric considers a young person’s developmental experiences, their relational history and their current level of functioning. This metric generates a report which helps professionals, carers and young people to understand what effect past experiences may have had on brain organisation and are now having on that young person’s behaviours and emotions.

Youth Court_Adelaide_L-R Judge Penny Eldridge, Clare Ryan and Magistrate Oliver KoehnPhoto: Jude Penny Eldridge, Take Two’s Clare Ryan and Magistrate Oliver Koehn.

The first session was attended by the Judge of the Youth Court, Judge Penny Eldridge and all three Youth Court Magistrates, as well as the Court Registrar. The second session was attended by the Family Conferencing coordinators at the court. The Youth Court runs Family Conferences in some youth criminal offending cases and Family Group Conferences regarding the care and protection of children.

Paul Humphrys is a Project Officer with the South Australian Youth Court. He says Judge Eldridge and the magistrates sought the professional development from Berry Street because they are interested in the neuroscience of childhood developmental trauma and how it affects the young people the court deals with.

“They were interested in being better informed about the paths that lead to recovery from trauma and understanding how early experiences can contribute to trauma-related criminal activity including drug dependence and mental health issues,” he said.

“I did some research and discovered that Berry Street are experts in the field.”

“It is also important to keep our conferencing unit staff up to date with the latest in trauma therapy, so it was a great fit for them to attend a second session.”

Presenting to the Judge, magistrates and court staff was an exciting opportunity for Clare. She says she hopes her expertise gave them a new lens through which to view the young people they deal with every day.

“They were a very receptive, accommodating and interested group of people. It was a privilege to be able to provide the training to them and see their genuine interest in the neurodevelopmental factors impacting the kids and families coming before the Court,” she said.

Berry Street’s Take Two program is the only accredited NMT Flagship site in Australasia. Clare Ryan is a fully accredited NMT Trainer.

For professional development enquiries please contact Berry Street Take Two by email or phone 03 9450 4700.

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