The word 'childhood,' for many, will bring about rose-colored memories of playgrounds, bike rides, and nursery rhymes. But those are not the images of childhood for some children living in the St. Louis area. That’s because gun shots ring out in their parks. And their bike routes are blocked with crime tape.
“It's horrible and it's unfair,” said Candice Cox.
Cox is a licensed clinical social worker. She founded an organization called K.H.A.O.S. Inc. “KHAOS” stands for ‘Keep Healing And Overcoming Struggles.’ She identifies herself as a KHAOS kid, as her parents were really just kids themselves when they had her.
“They did the best they could with what they had, but of course they made mistakes along the way as well. So I had to learn life is going to happen but it doesn't have to stop,” said Cox.
It’s a message she's bringing to schools and other organizations, teaching children how to deal with the toxic stress of living among rampant crime
“Every day you are in a hyper vigilant type of state,” said Cox. “You're in that state when you wake up in the morning and all the way until you go to bed at night, because you don't know what's going to happen. There's no sense of normalcy, violence is normal.”
She often makes that point to educators when teaching them how teach children who may be seeing crime scenes on their way to and from school.
“How are they supposed to walk into a school and be ready to read and write and pay attention? It's unrealistic,” said Cox.
Also unrealistic, she says, is healing for children living in crime-filled environments, if their parents are not healing themselves.
“As long as we continue to make our children feel like this is normal, broken kids grow up to be broken parents, so we continue to raise broken kids. And we can't keep doing that,” said Cox.
So, she's working to break the cycle by working with kids living in chaos.
“We have to teach them that it's ok not to be ok sometimes,” said Cox.
KHAOS Inc. also works with parents to help improve their mental health. The organization is currently working with some St. Louis Public Schools and the Boys and Girls Club.