Opinion: Undesirable childhood experiences in the juvenile justice system

Childhood adverse experience scores are usually very high for children in the juvenile justice system. Childhood adverse events, or ACEs, are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years) (1) ACEs are used to identify the amount of traumatic stress that an individual has experienced. Although this has improved in recent years, the juvenile justice system does not focus sufficiently on child trauma.

The sum of the total number of categories (not incidents) that a child reports is their ACE score. and lead the child to healing and hope. (3) Your own ACE score can help you understand and process some of your own problems, as well as help you understand the needs of children and adults exposed to trauma. . You can calculate your ACE score by clicking on the link here.

The higher one’s ACE score correlates with the high negative impact on lifelong health, opportunities, and future victimization and violence. (4) High ACE scores, without mitigating interventions and therapeutic assistance, serve as “go straight to prison” cards for many people. children exposed to violence, abuse and trauma. Children are often prosecuted, sometimes even as adults, and thrown into the legal system, instead of teaching children about the trauma they have experienced or providing them with any type of counseling or mentoring.

For example, the main factor that contributes to a higher ACE score is growing up in a violent household. Children growing up in violent homes are 24% more likely to commit sexual offenses, 74% more likely to commit crimes against a person and 50% more likely to commit drug and / or alcohol abuse (6). (7) Moreover, when a child sees and grows with violence in his or her environment, “the child cannot be expected to know “Violence is not a normal relationship response or the way society works.” (8) It is necessary in this cycle to intervene in time for children and to teach them that abuse and violence “are not normal or appropriate means of resolving conflicts.” (9)

It is essential for law enforcement lawyers representing juveniles to better train judges, provide resources such as pro bono services, or assist in any way possible. However, the burden does not lie solely with lawyers representing juveniles in the criminal justice system. It is important that society better addresses and understands children with high ACE so that we can encourage them to accept their trauma, understand it and learn from it, instead of becoming its victims.
Together we can change the lives of these children.

Ashley Saenz is an associate attorney for the Whalen Law Office, a criminal defense firm in Frisco. Learn more at whalenlawoffice.com.

1. Prevention Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): Using the best available evidence, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019), https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/preventingACES.pdf.
2. Casey Gwinn Cheering for children: Creating paths to HOPE for children exposed to trauma, 13 (2015).
3. When calculating your ACE score, it is important to gain emotional support. It is also important to realize that even if the score is low or zero, it does not mean that one’s life is perfect or without challenges.
4. Above n. 2 and 13.
5. Sarah M. Buel Why juvenile courts should deal with domestic violence: Promising practices to improve intervention outcomes, 53 Juv. & Fam. Ct. J. 1-2 (2002).
6. Above n. 2 in 23-25 ​​hours.
7. Chan M. Hellman & Casey Gwinn, Camp HOPE as an intervention for children exposed to domestic violence: Programmatic evaluation of hope and strength of character, 34 Child Adolescent Soc. J., 269 (2017).
8. Ashley Phillips, How to end the cycle of domestic violence: Policies aimed at children, 9 Child and family. Act J. 60 (2021).
9. Id.

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