Mental Health and the Juvenile Justice System

By Elena Cohen
Director, Safe Start Center

Most youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system have been exposed to both community and family violence and many have been threatened with, or been the direct target of, such violence. We know that youth who have multiple exposures to violence or victimization are at higher risk for mental health problems, behavioral problems, substance abuse, and delinquent behaviors.   The effect of exposure to violence is cumulative: the greater the number and type of victimization experiences that a child experiences, the greater the risks to a child’s development and his or her emotional and physical health.

Youth who are victimized by abuse, and are exposed to other forms of violence, often lose their trust in the adults who are either responsible for perpetrating the abuse or who fail to protect them. Victimization is a violation of our social contract with youth and can create a deep disregard both for adults in general and the rules that adults have set. Distrust and disregard for adults, rules, and laws place youth at a much greater risk for delinquency and other inappropriate behaviors.

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Children and Stress

Today we join the American Psychological Association’s Menthal Health Blog Party with a Q&A with Dr. Mary Alvord, a Maryland-based psychologist and member of the APA.

1.      Can you give our readers a little background on how constant or frequent stress impacts children’s health?

Data collected from the 2009 and 2010 Stress in America survey indicates that stress takes a physical toll on kids.  Tweens and teens report that they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep all night, experience headaches and stomach aches or upset stomach, either eat too little or too much in response to stress and feel angry a lot of the time.

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