A Trauma-Informed Approach to Court: An Exploratory Research Project (2022-2023)

In the 1990s, Kaiser Permanente asked over 17,000 people about their “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs). Researchers were astounded by the results — not only was trauma more prevalent than expected, but there was a clear association between ACEs and adverse health outcomes.

These findings have been used to improve wellness across disciplines beyond the health context. Teachers, social workers and police forces are trained on the importance of trauma. Research shows that education on trauma can increase the confidence of people who work with traumatized individuals, improve attitudes toward people with severe mental illness and expand relationship-building capacity in various settings. 

The justice system is now poised to address trauma and adversity, and North Carolina is leading the way. In May 2021, North Carolina Chief Justice Paul Newby created the Task Force on ACEs-Informed Courts. However, despite efforts to implement trauma-informed practices in the judicial context, little research has investigated their impact. Extant research has shown the positive effects of trauma-focused therapies for individuals who are justice-involved, but the impact of courtroom-based practices is not yet known.

This project team embarked on the first empirical study of trauma-informed practices in the courtroom. Students worked in subteams to develop surveys, review literature and analyze data through statistical software. Team members surveyed over 100 judges in North Carolina to assess their perceptions of trauma-informed care, created and used an observation tool to assess the use of trauma-informed practices in juvenile court and drafted a youth survey to measure how such practices are affecting children. 


Fall 2022 – Spring 2023 

Team Outputs

Trauma-Informed Practices in NC Courtrooms (2023 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase)

Trauma-Informed Courts: A Public Health Approach to Juvenile Justice (poster by Eva McKinsey, Amelia Thorn, Cassandra Ameen, Nina Brockelman, Ebani Dhawan, Mary Fertin, Catherine Gorey, Kaitlyn Hanson, Minjee Kim, Samuel Lawrence, Sidharth Ravi and Raza Lamb, presented at Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 19, 2023)

Observational instrument tracking the implementation of trauma-informed practices in courtrooms

Surveys of judges and court-involved youth measuring their experience and attitudes on trauma-informed practices

This Team in the News

N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice’s ACEs Task Force Concludes Work, Issues Final Report

Bass Connections team finishes court observation phase of trauma-informed courts research project

Graduate and Professional Student Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2023

Senior Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2023

Trauma-Informed Courts Project Receives Bass Connections Grant Funding

See related team, Trauma-Informed Courts: A Public Health Approach to Juvenile Justice (2023-2024).

Judge and gavel.

Team Leaders

  • Mary Fertin, Duke Law–JD Student
  • Catherine Gorey, Duke Law–JD Student
  • Eva McKinsey, Applied Social and Community Psychologist-Independent Research Scholar
  • Amelia Thorn, Duke Law

/graduate Team Members

  • Ebani Dhawan, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM
  • Raza Lamb, Interdisciplinary Data Science - Masters
  • Samuel Lawrence, Juris Doctor

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Cassandra Ameen, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Nina Brockelman, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Kaitlyn Hanson, Psychology (BS)
  • Minjee Kim, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Sidharth Ravi, Economics (BS)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • NC Administrative Office of the Courts
  • NC Chief Justice’s Task Force on ACEs-Informed Courts (Adverse Childhood Experiences)
  • Shawn Marsh, University of Nevada