It struck me today – not for the first time – that trauma has a nasty habit of reproducing itself.

Or rather the behaviour that springs from trauma and the systems that respond to it often seem to compound the problem.

An example…

Trauma 1

HISTORY: I’d like you to picture in your mind’s eye a 16 year old boy. His name is Will.

    • He looks nearer 20 but he struggles in school – they tease him sometimes
    • His father is violent and for years he’s seen his mother being beaten
    • Much of his childhood has been fearful
      • Fearful to go home after school
      • Fearful of asking for help at home
      • Fearful that Dad will leave
      • Fearful of what might happen if he doesn’t…
    • Will has a temper of his own that scares him sometimes
    • Cannabis helps; he finds it calms him down

Trauma 2

‘OFFENCE’: Grievous Bodily Harm ‘with intent’

    • Another lad in school takes the mickey sometimes – has done for years
    • But Will ignores it & stays out of his way
    • Today though, things got out of hand. A lot. The teasing included insults about Will’s Mum
    • Instead of walking away, Will snapped…
      • He punched the lad to the floor, kicked him to the body and head repeatedly
      • Eventually, teachers and his mates pulled him away and someone called 999
      • The lad was unconscious. Bleeding. One kid said it looked like he was dead
    • Will’s sleep is disturbed – it always has been but it’s worse now
    • They kicked him out of school
    • Sometimes he feels the rush of troubled thoughts & feelings – as if he was back fighting again
    • But when tries to remember it all seems hazy, like he’s lost the memory of it and is left with only the feelings

Trauma 3

PROSECUTION: police cells, uncertainty, court and…

    • The Police are a bit rough when they walk Will through the process
    • School to the car, car into the police station, Sargent’s desk to the cells…
    • The court cells aren’t much better – bare, cold, lonely, echoey, impersonal
    • All the time, Will has no real idea what’s happening. When people try to explain & ask if he understands, it’s easier just to say, ‘Yes’, but…

Regardless of the outcome of the court process – which can be a huge shock and challenge in itself – Will is lurching from crisis to crisis, from trauma to trauma.

What he needs – what he’s needed for YEARS – is for someone to help him.

Not just to ‘help’ in the moment when he’s upset, when things have gone pear-shaped (again!) but to really help him. He needs someone to stop the incessant rollercoaster ride of horrible feelings and events.

What Will Needs

    • Early intervention that’s not focused just on his behaviour
    • Someone to see his behaviour as symptomatic of other things – his experiences
    • To understand why he feels and behaves like he does…
    • …and real help to do something about it
    • Above all, I think, he needs someone to see the picture of his life as a whole and help him to build a better future


I’ve worked in the criminal justice system for donkey’s years and believe in the integrity, commitment and sheer hard work of many professionals within it – I like to think I’m one of them.

But a system that prosecutes children for what’s happened to them, is a broken system.

So let’s STOP asking Will, ‘What have you done and how can we punish you?’

And let’s START asking him, ‘What happened to you and how can we help?’

Related previous posts:

– Empathy 1 – What It Isn’t… (get the audio version of this post as part of the ‘Total Blog’ package on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 2 – What exactly is it?…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 3 – A child’s-eye view…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 4 – Being non-judgmental…  (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

– Empathy 5 – Understand another’s feelings… (get the audio version on ‘Jonny 24/7’ – here)

Pass it on…

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© Jonny Matthew 2022

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