If we save the body, but in so doing, destroy the mind and soul, what good have we really done?  ~Justice Max Baer

The Pennsylvania State Roundtable commissioned the Trauma Workgroup in May 2014.  The Workgroup was charged with addressing trauma within the court system.  Under this broad category the Workgroup will look at system and environmental issues within the courthouse and courtroom that might lend themselves to stressful reactions in those who have been traumatized.  Additionally, the Trauma Workgroup will look at courtroom practices and provide recommendations on ways to make the courtroom experience more welcoming and less supportive.  Finally, the Workgroup will provide guidance to judges and legal professionals about interacting with people before them in a way that fosters safety, empowerment, and trustworthiness, common factors in creating trauma-informed systems.

The Workgroup is co-chaired by the Honorable Robert Mellon, Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County and Bill Cisek, Esq. County Solicitor, Venango County. Workgroup members include judges, attorneys, children and youth staff and other system professionals working within the dependency system.  Click here for a complete listing of Workgroup members.

During the first year, the group explored the issue of trauma and trauma-informed court practice. Through the development of a professional survey on trauma, current thinking on what trauma is, how it is experienced, and trauma triggers are being identified. A survey for parents and children to share their experience at court is available for counties to administer and will assist in gaining a deeper understanding of the court’s effect on individuals who may already be experiencing trauma. To read more about the activities of the Workgroup and the recommendations to the State Roundtable click here.

Many courts in Pennsylvania either use comfort dogs in dependency court or are implementing a program to use them. Click the map to see which counties are using comfort dogs.

The impact can be dramatic on the children they serve, according to judges and other judiciary personnel interviewed for this educational video on comfort dogs. This video includes Judges, a dog trainer and a handler. Click the picture to view the video.