YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — First News is learning about trauma and how it affects people who commit crimes in our community. Karen Guerrieri, the head of counseling for the Mahoning County Juvenile Court, is our guest for a three-part In-Depth segment with WKBN’s Community Affairs Coordinator Dee Crawford.

First, Guerrieri explains the three E’s of trauma.

“So the three stand for event experience and effects and that’s a really nice, simplistic way of understanding trauma and what it might look like for different individuals. So the event can really be anything. And a lot of people assume trauma has to be some major life-threatening experience. Or it could be, but it doesn’t have to be. It just has to be something that overwhelms our existing coping skills and activates our body’s stress and alarm response system. The experience tends to be overwhelming, and I might face the situation or the event with horror or terror or a lot of shame and guilt. It could be any of those things. And then the effects could be short-term or long-term. That might include just feeling less safe in my environment. It might be feeling less safe with certain people. It might be hyper arousal where I’m over alert for potential threats that I might face. It could be mood disturbances or behavioral disturbances. It could be more easily angered and agitated by situations that don’t seem to warrant that response. And it could really be a whole host of things and asking the individual when we’re faced with those problematic behaviors, you know, please, like, tell me what’s happened to you is probably a good way for us to identify if this person has experienced something trauma or traumatic or aversive that’s impacting their behavior,” said Guerrieri.

We’re seeing more and more of our youth who are becoming desensitized to violence because it seems to become a part of their daily environment.

“So in my work at juvenile court, I’m the supervisor for the Clinical Services Department, and we do a lot of the mental health assessments for young people who are ordered to have mental health assessments. We provide counseling services for youth in our justice center and in the community. And one of the things that we do see is that the young people involved with the justice system tend to have greater experiences with trauma and adversity, and when we have greater experiences with trauma and adversity, we might be more likely to perceive threats in our environment and respond more quickly to perceived threats in our environment. So that could, of course, lead to greater instances of violence and disruptive behaviors. But if we solely look at it as this is a problem child with poor behavior, we’re missing the point and we’re missing an opportunity to be able to help that child and that family and the community that they live in,” said Guerrieri.

How early is Guerrieri seeing as a clinician the impact of trauma on our youth?

“So the court we generally deal with youth who are age 12 and older in terms of the delinquency dockets, but because we have other dockets and we deal with custody situations, we see children much younger than that as well, and we can see the effects of trauma on every age group that we serve. You know, there’s a particular type of traumatic event or traumatic events called adverse childhood experiences that can be very disruptive to development and result in a lot of issues and concerns throughout the lifespan,” said Guerrieri.

Open communication about trauma is something we want to continue to talk about.