It’s hard to ignore the levels of violence in the United States, especially within the juvenile population. This has a clear impact on the country as a whole, but more specifically, the youth who have been exposed to it. Exposure to violent events can be traumatic and can negatively impact multiple factors such as development, academic functioning, coping skills and relationships. Kids are not only being exposed to violence within their communities at a much higher rate, but also through technology. Social media has increased access to violent content online, which, studies have shown, increases violent behavior.

Youth may become more aggressive because of their environment. They may have greater access to weapons and be more likely to carry weapons. For many youth this is not a choice, but necessary for survival, which can lead to involvement in the juvenile justice system. Statistics from the National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice indicate that at least 75 percent of court-involved youth have experienced a trauma. A large percentage of court-involved youth have experienced multiple kinds of trauma, often referred to as poly-victimization.

Children and adolescents do not have to be the victim of a violent crime to experience trauma. This can come from multiple sources for example like exposure to gang activity, witnessing a shooting or other violent crime or the death of a friend or family member.

It is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of youth being involved in illegal activities. If you are concerned for your child, or a child close to you, here are some warning signs:

  • Coming home in new clothing or shoes that you, or someone you know, didn’t buy for them
  • Wearing a specific color on a regular basis
  • Having new items such as phones, game systems, tablets, etc. that you did not purchase for them
  • Having large amounts of cash
  • Seeing a shift in peer association (more specifically, being unaware of the peers your youth is spending time with)
  • Being out overnight
  • Skipping school
  • Increased drug use/drug possession
  • Possessing a weapon

Studies have shown that treatment for these individuals is more worthwhile than jail time. An effective way to treat these challenges is through engagement in an evidenced-based treatment program called Multisystemic Therapy (MST).

Violence can be driven by problems in family dynamics, school performance, peer relationships and neighborhood or community environments. MST specifically targets risk factors and recognizes that each of these systems plays a critical role in a youth’s world. Each requires attention when effective change is needed to improve the quality of life for kids and their families.

MST combines a strengths-based approach with intensive, family centered treatment to reduce the risk of out of home placement while improving family relations and functioning. Over the past 30 years, MST has been proven to drop re-arrest rates by 70 percent as well as reduce out of home placement by 50 percent - at the same time improving family relations.