Polyvictimized children in the legal system:
prophylactic protections and policy considerations

William W. Patton (UCLA) at the ESCAP 2015 conference

Involving child psychiatrists in public policy

William W. Patton (UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine; Whittier Law School, Costa Mesa, USA). ESCAP Television interview and abstract from his lecture at the ESCAP 2015 Congress in Madrid.

During the last decade several threads of psychological and neuro- biological data have reshaped our basic knowledge of children’s capacity for moral culpability and the effects of multiple forms of abuse on their psychopathology. For example, J. D. Ford, David Finkelhor and many other researches have started charting the effects and mediating factors for polyvictimized children. However, the re- sponse by legal systems to this empirical data has been either slow or nonexistent.
This presentation analyzes the role of children in the legal system in relation to this new psychological evidence and offers practical and policy changes consistent with children’s best inter- ests. One recommendation is to modify the variables used to determine whether minors should be tried in juvenile or in adult courts for criminal violations. Annually in the United States ap- proximately 2.11 million children are arrested, and a recent study estimated that approximately ‘‘[t]wo-thirds of males and three- quarters of females in juvenile detention have one or more psy- chiatric disorders.’’ A second important issue covered in this presentation involves whether and under what circumstances the media should be admitted into cases involving juveniles. Another issue discussed concerns the appropriate out-of-home placements for polyvictimized and LGBTQ child victims. This demographic group has very special needs for placements that will increase their privacy, promote a better self-image, and reduce bullying against them. Further, what types of sanctions are appropriate for these children who have undergone longitudinal and multiple forms of abuse? For instance, should we ban ‘‘shaming’’ for this demo- graphic since research clearly indicates that their self-image is fragile and that they are hyper-vigilant regarding social interaction? Finally, recent research indicates that a substantial percentage of polyvictimized children are dual-system or cross-over youth who have problems related to juvenile delinquency, child abuse and neglect (dependency), and school discipline.
This study will analyze how we should co-ordinate these often conflicting legal systems in order to maximize the deterrent, reha- bilitative, punitive, and reintegration policies to assure that public safety and these psychologically troubled children’s best mental health interests are both maximized?