Date of Award

Fall 12-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Forensic Psychology



First Advisor or Mentor

Emily Haney-Caron

Second Reader

Veronica Johnson

Third Advisor

Keisha April


Approximately 90% of justice-involved youth have experienced some form of trauma by the time they become involved in the justice system, and attorneys report being negatively impacted by their work with trauma-exposed populations generally. Yet, research has not focused on how varying degrees of youth trauma can impact attorney decisions and if that differs based on youth race. This study, therefore, explored vicarious trauma and its impact on juvenile defense attorneys, including how an attorney’s experience of vicarious trauma impacts case handling and perception of their youth client and how that differs based on client race and trauma history. We recruited 144 active juvenile defense attorneys via email listservs to partake in an online survey utilizing a vignette about a Black or White youth with either a severe or moderate trauma history, with the attorney answering a questionnaire about the decisions they would make as the youth’s attorney. Youth race did not predict attorney case handling, however, attorneys reported they would expend significantly more effort on behalf of a severely traumatized youth client compared to a moderately traumatized youth. Years of experience, but not percentage of traumatized clients, significantly predicted vicarious trauma symptomatology, with attorneys with more years of experience demonstrating elevated trauma levels. Furthermore, when controlling for youth race, an attorney’s own history of vicarious trauma did not moderate the relationship between youth trauma history and attorney case handling. This study contributed to the small body of research that investigates the relationship that attorneys have with their trauma-exposed youth clients and may further influence policy work and trauma-informed training for attorneys in the future.



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