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  • Writer's pictureJace Cardona

Bereaved Youth

It is a rarely discussed yet widely evident phenomenon: many youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system are grieving. There is no “right” way to grieve. However, for minority youth, especially BIPOC youth, their grief might get them arrested. 

When youth experience the death of someone close to them, it has been shown to affect their cognitive processing, decision making skills, impulse control, emotional regulation, and more. With a lack of proper support and prolonged grieving, it is very easy to see how trouble may arise for youth. Yet very few studies take a close look at the relationship between experiencing death and juvenile delinquency. 

According to two studies of incarcerated youth, the majority (72%-90%) had experienced the death of at least one person important to them. Importantly, minority youth (BIPOC, LGBT+, disabled, etc) are the most likely to have experienced the death of someone close. Death by violence, suicide, and overdose, those considered “high-risk,” are most likely to affect youth in the juvenile justice system. To this point, youth with at least one death were more likely to have diagnosable mood and behavioral disorders such as ADHD and depression as compared to youth who hadn’t experienced a death. These same minority youth are also the most likely to have increased police presence in their communities and disproportionately elevated rates of arrest. 

Clearly, this is a layered issue that can involve policing practices, access to healthcare and treatment options, socio-cultural attitudes about death, and more.

One Rhode Island non-profit is aiming to change the way we talk about death with youth, for healthier grieving. FRIENDS WAY is a unique innovative bereavement center that provides trauma-informed grief services and support free of cost to youth and families. They also have specialized bereavement groups for people affected by suicide or addiction.

Instead of ostensibly protecting youth from distress by withholding information or being euphemistic about death, FRIENDS WAY aims to be completely candid. No one was lost – they died. By being fully informed and allowing for an open dialogue, youth are able to decide how to grieve for themselves instead of being held to the expectations of adults. Peer support groups facilitated by clinicians also give youth the opportunity to connect with others and take the time to process their emotions without fear of judgment or criticism for the way they express grief. 

There is one study that investigated the effects of Trauma and Grief Component Therapy for Adolescents on incarcerated youth. In the 15 week period following this therapy, behavioral incidents decreased in half. Scores in grief symptoms such as separation distress and circumstance-related distress also significantly decreased. If this is in any way indicative of the potential for trauma-informed grief support to help youth at risk of system-involvement, we must rise to the occasion and meet the need.

JHBs are in a critical position to provide prevention and diversion services, a task which may necessarily involve addressing grief with youth. RICJ will host a Community Ally Coalition meeting with FRIENDS WAY on April 8th at 12-1:30pm over Zoom. We hope the information from this article and the upcoming meeting will help JHB members to serve their community.



Clow, S., Olafson, E., Ford, J., Moser, M., Slivinsky, M., & Kaplow, J. (2023). Addressing grief reactions among incarcerated adolescents and young adults using trauma and grief component therapy. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 15(Suppl 1), S192–S200.

David A. Brent, Nadine M. Melhem , Ann S. Masten , Giovanna Porta & Monica Walker Payne (2012) Longitudinal Effects of Parental Bereavement on Adolescent Developmental Competence, Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 41:6, 778-791, DOI: 10.1080/15374416.2012.717871

Hamdan S, Mazariegos D, Melhem NM, Porta G, Walker Payne M, Brent DA. Effect of Parental Bereavement on Health Risk Behaviors in Youth: A 3-Year Follow-up. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(3):216–223. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.682

Harnisher, J. L., Abram, K., Washburn, J., Stokes, M., Azores-Gococo, N., & Teplin, L. (2015). Loss Due to Death and its Association with Mental Disorders in Juvenile Detainees. Juvenile & family court journal, 66(3), 1–18.

Initiative, P. P. (n.d.). New data: Police use of force rising for Black, female, and older people; racial bias persists. Retrieved March 21, 2024, from

Lansing, A. E., Plante, W. Y., Beck, A. N., & Ellenberg, M. (2018). Loss and Grief Among Persistently Delinquent Youth: The Contribution of Adversity Indicators and Psychopathy-Spectrum Traits to Broadband Internalizing and Externalizing Psychopathology. Journal of child & adolescent trauma, 11(3), 375–389.

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