Youth Trauma, Substance Use, and Youth Experiences in Public Systems in Hawai’i



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Experiencing trauma during childhood and adolescence is a potent predictor of subsequent life adversity. Youth who are experiencing homelessness, experiencing foster care, involved in the juvenile justice system, experiencing elevated substance use, or elevated mental health needs are at heightened risk for life trauma and are in vulnerable positions of experiencing additional trauma within the public youth systems in which they are involved. Additionally, having predispositions for youth substance use and abuse habits are connected to both trauma experiences and youth system involvement. The present project investigated how trauma, youth system involvement, and substance use interact and create specific circumstances of adversity for youth involved in public youth systems of care in Hawai’i (homelessness youth services, juvenile justice services, foster care services, substance use youth services, and mental health youth services). The project aimed to gain insight into youth experiences of public systems through qualitative focus group interviews and offer recommendations to the State of Hawai’i Department of Health, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division. From the data, youth shared trauma complex understandings of systems, and more importantly some shortcomings of these systems. They demonstrated the importance of centering youth voices and their insights spoke to improvements in supporting youth trauma within youth public systems of care.



Youth trauma, Public youth systems, Youth substance use