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Providing Psychosocial Interventions for Grieving Adjudicated Youth

Uplift Center for Grieving Children

Providing Psychosocial Interventions for Grieving Adjudicated Youth Logo

Program Website
Winner Status:
Program Type:
Symptom Management and Treatment Adherence
Target Population:
Individuals involved with the Justice System
Correctional Facility

Nature of the Problem

Justice-involved youth have a complex set of needs, and the provision of psychosocial interventions are increasingly recognized as a critical factor for successful reentry and prevention of recidivism and victimization. An article in the OJJDP Journal of Juvenile Justice, co-authored by Jessica Feierman of Philadelphia’s Juvenile Law Center, states this problem: “Research has demonstrated that more than 80% of juvenile justice-involved youth report a history of exposure to at least one traumatic event at some point in their lives (e.g., childhood maltreatment, domestic or community violence, severe accidents, traumatic deaths of family or friends), and typically these youth have endured multiple types of traumatic exposure. Such polyvictimization places youth at significant risk for ongoing emotional, developmental, academic and behavioral problems. Persistent posttraumatic stress can lead to serious long-term mental health problems for youth, including posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, anxiety, disordered eating, depression, self-injury, conduct problems, and revictimization.” Research also shows that justice-involved youth not only report significantly higher rates of loss under traumatic circumstances but are much more likely to witness a traumatic death firsthand. These traumas have the effect of putting youth at risk for PTSD and recidivism, among other potential dangers.

Program Description

Uplift Center for Grieving Children’s Psychosocial Interventions for Grieving Adjudicated Youth program provides trauma-informed and evidence-based psychosocial interventions to support grieving, justice-involved youth at Philadelphia’s Juvenile Justice Service Center (JJSC) and Northeast Treatment Centers (NET) Evening Reporting Center. While these organizations, which serve and/or house justice-involved youth, provide mental health supports, none had any grief-specific therapies. Uplift is unaware of any other grief organizations in the region or surrounding states offering this kind of programming. The program is provided as a close-ended short-term intervention aimed at assisting justice-involved youth in understanding grief and trauma; improving post-traumatic regulation and interpersonal skills; group sharing and processing of grief and loss; identifying and inculcating healthy coping skills; and integrating the grief and loss experience into future orientation. Grief group cycles occur over 2-week periods with 2 groups each week, for a total of 4 groups per cycle. Groups runs 60 minutes with 6-10 youth attendees, with the focus on death of a loved one to homicide. Groups are staffed by two experienced Uplift master’s level clinicians with support from residential and social work staff. Uplift’s approach to this work is partnership-based and maximizes strengths of each organization in the implementation of the project.


Disrupting the traditional models of mental health support for justice-involved youth, Uplift’s unique program is the first of its kind in Philadelphia and the surrounding regions. Using an empathetic lens to view justice-involved juveniles’ trauma and pain, the program views this as a root of their involvement with the justice system. Uplift staff have witnessed participants pointing to the loss of a dear loved one as the moment their path began to lead to involvement with illegal activities. Breakthroughs like this emphasize the importance of grief awareness in explaining a myriad of adolescent and youth behaviors. The program is original in offering a specialized strategy to better support the mental health of justice-involved youth, improving their emotional awareness for more positive future outcomes, and hopefully reducing recidivism. By helping participants fully process their grief and its impact, the program aids them in their future orientation, particularly after reentry.


Uplift’s program can be influential in shaping how the behavioral health community treats those in the justice system by encouraging that community to recognize the role untreated grief can play in shaping life choices and direction. Indeed, this intervention strategy is a natural outgrowth of the ACEs model of behavioral health intervention; this approach takes it to the next level. Uplift’s program provides mental health tools to process emotions and memories, as well as better coping skills, and is key to providing broader behavioral health care. In seeking to improve criminal justice standards and better support at-risk youth entering the juvenile justice system, as well as bolster their chances for success upon exiting that system, Uplift’s program better addresses the consequences of victimization, provides healthy coping mechanisms, and potentially reduces the risk of the youth becoming more involved in the system or recidivism of first-time offenses.


Uplift is prepared to provide increased Psychosocial Interventions for Grieving Adjudicated Youth programming at JJSC, with each of the organization’s clinicians capable of leading sessions. The program is also being run at the NET Evening Reporting Center and more sessions could be offered at both locations as well as others. The model is highly portable, and Uplift is willing to offer the program at other Philadelphia locations expressing interest. Uplift clinical staff attend and present at conferences in Philadelphia and around the country and are prepared to share information on the program with organizations doing similar work. Because it is curriculum-based, Uplift staff could easily train other clinicians to administer the program. From a funding perspective, a portion of unrestricted funds raised by the organization are earmarked for the program, and Uplift maintains an active pipeline of opportunities and regularly assesses potential giving.


As of December 2018, 3 cycles of grief groups have been held, serving a total of 30 youth at JJSC. These youth were surveyed prior to the cycle beginning and again at the conclusion of all 4 groups. The survey read: “How well do you feel you are coping with the death(s)?”, on a Likert scale of 1-10. On average, youth reported a mean PRE-group coping score of 5 and a mean POST-group coping score of 6.4. Positive feedback has been received from both residential and social work staff at JJSC throughout all 3 fall grief group cycles. Uplift will continue to gather outcomes and use these and other recommendations from staff to continuously update and fine-tune the program, as necessary.