Ben David, co-chair of the North Carolina Chief Justice's Task Force on ACEs-Informed Courts, shares plans to sustain the work done during the two-year term of the Task Force, to "care for our own" speaking of North Carolina's children, youth, families, communities, victims of crimes, members of law enforcement, the judiciary and court officers and staffers. He also shared Chief Justice Paul Newby's hopes of "getting ACEs-informed courts" into the culture, and said a national conference for judges is a long-term objective.
The theme unfolded across reports on children, families, victims of crime, law enforcement officers, victim’s advocates, various programs and resources, and the judges, officers, and employees of the courts themselves at the final official quarterly meeting of the North Carolina Chief Justice’s Task Force on ACEs Informed Courts in May.
The work of the Task Force, coming to the close of its two-year commitment, focused on caring for the people of North Carolina in myriad ways, as highlighted in reports from Task Force leadership, presented at the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) state headquarters in Raleigh.
“As our work officially comes to an end, we need to ask Republicans and Democrats in the legislature to put aside their differences and put their interests into the wellbeing of our children,” said Task Force co-chair Ben David to a group of about 35 people, including judges, officers of the court, and subject matter experts.
“We must understand the impact of early childhood adversity – ACEs – and we must become trauma-informed,” said David, who is also the District Attorney for New Hanover and Pender Counties.
With support from co-chair Ryan Boyce, the new director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, and Task Force member Judge J.H. Corpening, chief district court judge of New Hanover and Pender counties, David’s reports, and those from other Task Force members, revealed efforts across many systems working to prevent harm, promote understanding, restitution and healing, and to sustain the new efforts.
Among ongoing and new initiatives and reports:
Education and awareness of victim compensation programs
Mary Vale Ware, director of training and technical systems for the United States Office for Victims of Crime, opened the day with offers of free training and technical assistance, saying these are services the federal government offers any and all states.
“We have 500 subject matter experts who respond to mass violence, and exist to help the community in crisis,” Ware said, inviting Task Force members to take advantage of all programs out of the Office of Victims, including the National Elder Fraud Hotline.
Ware encouraged Task Force members to focus on how they are all taking care of themselves and the people who work in the courts, in law enforcement, and victim advocacy.
“This can’t be extra,” said Ware in reference to caring for staff. “How can we be trauma informed in public if you’re not trauma informed in private?
“You’ve got to operationalize self care to get up and go and look out at the sky and make sure it's still there. To reduce our own trauma we must predict and prepare. So if you have a day that is nothing but child sexual assaults, you know it’s going to be a hard day,” she said, adding that, “And if you have a hard day you need to say it out loud.”
In response, both David and Corpening spoke about strategies to help employees feel more supported and connected. David has members of his staff log two hours a week of community volunteering time, to do what they feel most passionate about in community, and to stay connected to the people they serve. He has had employees do this since he took on the role of district attorney some 18 years ago.
Every Monday, Corpening takes a bag of apples to the Juvenile Justice Center for the staff, and has been told how much people appreciate being remembered and having a free apple.
Corpening also reiterated Ware’s counsel about the “hard days”, mentioning a recent day of traumatic cases that were back-to-back, and the need to pull staff together and acknowledge the impact of what they are hearing.
Crime Victim's Compensation Fund
In addition to supporting the people who work in the justice system, David and Ware emphasized the need to support North Carolinians who are victims of crime.
“There is a Crime Victim Compensation Fund that is part of the Federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). The funds come through the Department of Public Safety. Some states pay for emotional injury, or will help people who have been a witness or have been a victim of sexual assault,” said David.
“There is federal reimbursement available for victims of vicarious trauma as well, and we need to get easier pathways for that,” he added.
Training for new judges
Amelia Thorn, assistant director of the Bolch Judicial Institute, an institute of Duke Law School, shared plans for new District Judges to attend a new session of new judges school. This new session will focus on trauma-informed training and be taught by leaders from the Bolch Institute at Duke University School of Law.
“It was impressive to see how many new judges signed up as soon as this was offered,” said Thorn, citing that of the 42 new judges, more than 30 signed up in the first few days the opportunity was offered.
“It will be critical for judges to look at their own trauma,” said Judge Andy Humphrey of the training.
Safe Baby Courts Pilot Program
Thorn also reported that Safe Baby Courts, another key initiative of the Chief Justice’s Task Force on ACEs-Informed Courts, will be piloted in three counties – New Hanover, Mitchell, and Yancey. The counties are a mix of urban and rural counties. AOC is currently recruiting to fill the State Director and State Coordinator positions for this project.
The Duke Endowment gave $2.3 million dollars and the Dogwood Endowment Trust gave $1 million to fund the Safe Baby Court pilot counties for three years.
Safe Baby Courts, which have been adopted in many states, essentially provide a system in which parents accused of child abuse or neglect are asked,”What happened to you?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?” They are offered services such as parenting classes, counseling, job training, housing services, transportation services— to help the family get back on its feet following charges of child abuse or neglect. Asia Prince, AOC program officer, has worked with Corpening and others to help bring the program into the three-year piloting stage.
Judge Corpening spoke about the The School-Justice Partnership and how these partnerships help to keep kids in school and off the streets, minimizing suspensions and expulsions.
“It's all about being trauma informed and identifying root causes. We need the School Justice Partnership to help us keep from pushing kids out of school and into the courts,” Corpening said.
At the February Task Force meeting Corpening reminded fellow members that the School-Justice Partnership has reduced court referrals by 60 percent the first year.
Corpening also mentioned the challenges of increased violence among youth following Covid. “We’ve got to get back the protective factors that were lost when kids were out of school,” said Corpening, referring to the advantage of having kids in school where teachers and support staff have contact and connection with kids, and the ability to identify and respond to behavioral challenges before they require involvement with law enforcement.
Opioid Settlement Funds
Amber Faith Harris, North Carolina Association of County Commissioners director of government relations for the association, provided an opioid settlement update. She also provided resources to help counties seek and manage the $600 million dollars the State is receiving in Settlement funds.
"Caring for our own"
As this, the final planned meeting of the Task Force came to a close, David reminded members again about the need for Republicans and Democrats to put differences aside and put their interests on the well-being of the State’s children.
“We must understand the impact of the early years. We’ve got to look at the early ACEs, and become trauma informed. Safe Baby Courts are important. We must also make sure the relationships exist to get our Recovery Courts fully funded. We need to study the efficacy of Recovery Courts and get them funded at the state level,” David said.
Secondary trauma and suicide
In caring for all of North Carolina’s people, David also stressed the need to address secondary trauma; to help law enforcement.
“The weight of suicide is high. There are more officers who die by suicide than are killed in the line of duty. We cannot serve and protect if we are not taking care of our own,” David said.
Pathways from Poverty; Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs)
He also spoke about the need to find pathways out of poverty for North Carolinians, and the need for communities to talk about the seven Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs), keeping in mind that four of the seven PCEs happen in community.
“We need to help prevent tragedies. Adverse community experiences are ACEs, and with them we are failing kids,” David said, speaking of experiences such as community violence, racism, poverty, lack of equity in schools, healthcare, opportunities, lack of employment, the challenges of intergenerational trauma, and more.
Getting ACEs-Informed Courts into the culture; what's ahead.
Looking forward, David spoke about the need for more focus on the Crime Victims Compensation Fund that is available to all crime victims, and how each judicial district can help share that information. He also shared his hope that this work from the last two years in North Carolina could help spread trauma informed courts work in other states.
“We’ve got to get this into the culture,” said David.
“We’ve spoken with judges in other states and know we need to look at lived experience. There are some pilot projects we’re looking at in other states. We know Chief Justice (Paul Newby) wants to share the ACEs-informed work into the culture. A national conference is a long-term objective,” he said.
For more information about the North Carolina Chief Justice's ACEs Informed Courts Task Force, contact Mike Silver, training and services director, North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts.
Additional resources may be found at the links below:
- ACEs-Informed Courts Bench Card
- Building a Resilient and Trauma-Informed North Carolina - NCIOM
- Healthy Communities NC
- Recovery Courts
- School-Justice Partnership
- Three Realms of ACEs Science (regarding adverse community experiences)
- North Carolina Launches First-in-the-Nation Statewide Task Force (5.18.21)
- North Carolina Moves Closer to Creating Nation's First ACEs-Informed Courts System
- "Going Way Upstream: Panelists at Resilient Pender County Conference Report on Current Trauma Prevention; Look to Future