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Juvenile defense: How young is too young?

When you found out that your child stole from a store, you immediately took your child there to return the item and apologize. Your child, only nine years old, knows better, but he made a bad decision.

What caught you off guard was that the store clerk reported that he would be calling the police. You disagreed, arguing that you had your child return the item. However, the clerk said he was bound by the store's policies. Now what? Is your child really at risk of facing charges?

How young is too young for the juvenile court system?

What's interesting about the juvenile court system is that it has seen cases with children as young as six in the past, which means that your nine-year-old child can face charges, too. Will the judge treat your child the same way he or she would a 17-year-old offender? Likely not. However, the reality is that your child still can be charged, which means you need to develop a defense strategy.

According to the National Institute of Justice, children who begin offending before the age of 12 are more likely to continue well into early adulthood. Statistically, a child who offends, like your child did, is more likely to do so a second time as he or she grows. To prevent that, many people believe it's important to charge the child and hold the parents responsible as well.

It's also notable that the NIJ believes that 40 to 60 percent of juvenile delinquents stop offending before they reach early adulthood, which means that, in reality, many children do just make mistakes. It's how the courts, parents and authorities react to these mistakes that matters most.

Early interventions with children who are prone to offending can help. Home visits by nurses, parent management training and enrichment programs help parents cope with difficult children and encourage children to develop healthy interests. In some locations, as evidenced by the Seattle Social Development Project, involving parents and teachers in training with children as young as six helps prevent criminal acts.

In conclusion, even though your child has only stolen a small item and you took him back to apologize, the clerk may still have the responsibility to report the incident. If the officer who responds chooses to arrest your child for the act, then you could face a legal battle with the juvenile justice system despite your child's young age.

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