Mental health awareness has improved over recent decades, and there are probably many people in Washington who now feel comfortable reaching out for help. But even those who are receiving appropriate treatment can — and do — still suffer the effects of their illnesses. In fact, mental health disorders play a significant role in juvenile offenses.

Some are quick to label juvenile delinquents as “bad” kids who just need to be punished. This outlook ignores the very real mental health crisis among many youths who commit juvenile acts. In the juvenile justice system, around 70% of kids have at least one diagnosed mental health condition. Statistics also show that 75% of these children are victims of traumatic events. Also, 93% were exposed to adverse childhood events like abuse, serious illness and community violence.

According to Mental Health America, the juvenile justice system is criminalizing mentally ill children and even those who have behavioral health needs. MHA advocates for these kids to be diverted out of juvenile court and into treatment services that can address their unique needs. The organization believes that one of the reasons kids with mental illnesses are still shuffled straight into the juvenile justice system is at least in part due to lackluster funding for mental health care.

Parents who are aware of their child’s mental health problems probably already know that they are facing an uphill battle. Washington’s legal system still seems reluctant to acknowledge how prevalent mental illness is among those who are accused of committing juvenile offenses. This is one of the reasons that working alongside an attorney who is knowledgeable in juvenile law is generally well-advised.