The number of juveniles (persons under 18 years of age) charged with committing homicide in the District has increased dramatically during the past few years. In 1983 just three juveniles were arrested for homicide; in 1989 the number of juveniles arrested for this offense was 63. This year, 65 juveniles already have been arrested on murder charges.

The number of juveniles who are homicide victims has risen too. In 1986 12 juveniles were homicide victims; in 1989 there were 40.

These are frightening and disheartening statistics reflecting a gruesome picture of carnage in our streets, and they don't even include the adult statistics, which are even more sickening.

I have been a social worker in the District's juvenile justice system for 10 years. I am seeing and working on more and more cases involving juveniles (and young juveniles at that) charged with and found guilty of homicide. For example, I have worked with 14-year-olds who have been found guilty of murder. And I am seeing more and more of my juveniles become homicide victims. One of my clients, for instance, was found dead with 11 shots in his body.

What I want the public to know and understand is that the youths I have worked with and who are committing homicide or becoming homicide victims are not thugs or the dregs of society. They are nothing like the distorted images formed in the minds of apathetic and scared people.

Many of these youths are intelligent, talented, sociable, likable and show no signs of severe emotional disturbance. Many do not use drugs. Many are not sophisticated or hard-core delinquents -- or sociopaths or psychopaths. In many ways, they are like you and me. Yes, these youths have problems and are troubled, but they are not the animals the media makes them out to be. They are children who adults have too often neglected, mistreated, misguided and mis-educated. They are children shouldering the burden adults have let fall.

Don't get me wrong, juveniles who commit crimes must be held accountable. It must be made clear to our children that murder is unequivocally unacceptable and warrants severe sanctions. One cannot overstate the devastating emotional, psychological and lifetime impact of a homicide.

Nevertheless, we're still dealing with children. We must achieve the delicate balance of protecting the community and holding the child responsible for his or her conduct while securing the necessary rehabilitative services for the child.

For the carnage to stop, our attitude about who is killing and who is being killed in this community must change. We are killing and being killed. As long as we refer to "them" or "those people," the community will continue to be decimated by death and destruction. Until we become positively involved in all our children's lives, more and more of our children -- our future -- will kill and be killed. Michael O. Francis