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Experts: Juvenile crimes caused by reaction to toxic stress

Kids who are involved in criminal activity may not be fully to blame for their behavior. In fact, many California youngsters who commit juvenile crimes are so traumatized by their environments that they often see no other course of action. Now, some California municipalities are attempting to address this so-called "toxic stress," which can result from those who are exposed to daily abuse, trauma and neglect.

The Bayview district's Center for Youth Wellness has partnered with several medical groups to promote a new approach to child wellness and health. Kids who are receiving treatment for traditional ailments such as sore throats and colds are also examined for signs of toxic stress. Experts explain that life in a violent, dangerous environment often leads to the development of an acute "fight or flight" mentality among neighborhood youths, who find it difficult to function in society because of their behavior. In fact, those behaviors may be physiologically motivated by hormones and other biological factors.

Children who have had adverse childhood experiences are not only more likely to act out through crime, but they are also consistently diagnosed with learning and behavior problems in school. About half of students who suffer from toxic stress suffer from these issues, whereas just 3 percent of students in stable homes are considered learning or behaviorally challenged. These kids are also far more likely to develop deadly conditions such as cancer and heart disease as they age.

Now, district attorneys in the area are working to integrate this new approach into their procedures, as well. Instead of simply criminalizing the children's behavior, those accused of juvenile crimes will be seen as victims who need more stable home environments. Community organizations and law enforcement officials say they intend to work together to prevent those children from suffering the long-term consequences associated with early legal penalties.

Source: www.sfexaminer.com, "Bayview center pioneers approach to crime prevention by fighting stress in youths" Mike Aldax, Dec. 08, 2013

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