State lawmakers are considering a measure to declare youth violence as a public health epidemic.

Rep. Bruce Franks Jr.

The House Resolution sponsored by Democrat Bruce Franks Jr. of St. Louis calls for the establishment of statewide trauma-informed education.

Franks contends PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – is a condition that afflicts kids who’ve experienced violence.

“The fact that I am 33 and I have been to now 155 funerals, an average of seven funerals since the age of six is not normal” said Franks.  “And there’s not one point in time when I should accept that as normal.”

Franks made the comments as a hearing for the resolution Tuesday.  He thinks youth violence needs to be addressed at the root cause, which he identifies as a lack of jobs, education and resources.

Candice Cox is a licensed clinical social worker from St. Louis who also spoke at a hearing.  She described how children in urban neighborhoods are traumatized and disconnected from experiences of normal kids.

“They don’t think about going outside and playing because ‘I can’t go outside and play, because there’s a possibility that I may be shot’” said Cox.  “A few weeks ago when it was hot outside, there were people outside, and they were in their neighborhood, and children were shot.  There was just a drive-by shooting.”

Cox runs the non-profit KHAOS (Keep Healing And Overcoming Struggles).  According to the group’s website, it provides programs for organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Saint Louis, and several schools, including some within the St. Louis School District.

Cox says conditions in urban areas have devolved to the point where broken parents are raising broken kids in broken communities.  She contends people in such communities can’t be expected to fix themselves when they don’t have the resources or know-how to do so.

Also at the hearing on the resolution, which mostly drew participants from the St. Louis area, was Jeanette Mott Oxford with Empower Missouri.  She thinks all state agencies need to be better informed and better prepared to deal with childhood trauma.

“The question to ask when we see a lot children acting out is not ‘What’s wrong with you’, the question is ‘What happened to you’.  And if we would all switch to that as our perception in the way that we approach those children, we’ll have much better outcomes.”

Mott Oxford says her organization has been studying ACES, Adverse Childhood Experiences, and the effects of toxic stress on brain development for three years.

Franks admits it’s late in the legislative session to get his resolution across the finish line.  He said if he can get the issue on people’s minds, he’ll come back in 2018 and try to make it one of the first measures gets through the legislature.