Blog: Seeking Justice for Children

The Seeking Justice for Children blog is a collaborative effort among attorneys, academics, and other advocates for children's rights. To submit an item for posting, please email Kimberly Jordan, director of the Justice for Children Project, at

From the Briefing Room

“Child Maltreatment Can Leave Scars in the Brain”

The title of this NPR report should give us all pause.  Child maltreatment – otherwise known as child abuse or neglect – is a problem much of our society does not want to see or discuss.  In this, National Adoption Month, however, this issue should be in the national eye.  Too many of our children are suffering from the long-term effects of poor parenting.

I have spent years representing child victims of maltreatment.  As an attorney for such children, my job is to investigate the causes and impacts of the abuse or neglect my clients have endured.  In the child welfare system, these children are often removed from perpetrating parents.  Many are eventually returned to their parents, some end up in foster care, some may be adopted, and many more are being raised by family members.  In those cases, identifying the victim and “bad guy” is relatively easy.  As those children grow up, though, it becomes increasingly more difficult to put such labels in place.

 In my current role as a juvenile defender, most of these children are teenagers, who don’t readily appear as victims of abuse.  They are labeled “juvenile delinquents,” and are treated like criminals.  Yes, they have often made poor choices; I represent many children who fail to regularly attend school.  Some of my clients have committed minor criminal offenses and others have participated in more serious acts.  Our newest project, the Greif Fellowship in Juvenile Human Trafficking, sees children in the most desperate of situations – girls who are seeking love and affection, but end up being treated as sexual objects.

As the NPR piece illustrates, the enduring effects of their childhood trauma are on display in these teens’ poor life choices.  Childhood trauma affects a child’s ability to make connections in order to make good decisions, withstand societal and peer pressure, regulate mood and emotions, and respond appropriately to stress.  I see these outcomes in the actions of nearly all of my clients. Given that the scars in their brains were created when they were victimized, is it fair to now label them as criminals?