Thank you, Laurie [Robinson], for your kind words; for your commitment to the goals we’ve gathered to discuss and advance; and, of course, for your outstanding leadership of the Office of Justice Programs. I’d also like to thank Jeff [Slowikowski], and his colleagues in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, for all they’ve done to bring us together this week – and for their ongoing efforts to engage and unite a broad array of stakeholders in the work of building a brighter, more secure, and more just future for our nation’s young people.
It is a pleasure to be here – and a privilege to be joined by my good friend Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy; as well General [Raymond] Odierno, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army; and Dr. Jill Biden, the Second Lady of the United States – and a very proud Blue Star mom.
And it is a special honor to welcome the military families who are with us today. I know I speak for everyone here when I say that you are an inspiration. Your courage, your perseverance, and your many sacrifices have strengthened our entire nation – and, over the last decade, have helped our brave service men and women confront – and overcome – a host of evolving threats.
Although you share a powerful bond, many of the challenges Blue Star families face are unique – and, for many of you, they have never been greater. But neither has our collective resolve to ensure that none of you – and, especially, no child in this country – has to face these challenges alone.
This week, as we gather to discuss ways to move forward in safeguarding our nation’s children, fostering a new generation of leaders, and providing the guidance to keep young people on the right path – I believe it’s fitting that we close this conference with a renewed focus on supporting those who have given so much in support of their country.
But I also know that your ambitious agenda – and the diverse range of issues you’ve tackled over the last few days – have led to productive discussions on a range of other topics related to juvenile justice and delinquency prevention. I’m particularly glad you’ve had the chance to hear from my colleagues – Associate Attorney General [Tom] Perelli and Deputy Attorney General [Jim] Cole – about the significant work that our nation’s Justice Department is leading to protect young people from crime and exposure to violence, to improve our juvenile justice system, and to make certain that all of our children have the chance – and the assistance they need – to grow into productive members of their communities.
As a result of these efforts – and thanks to the work of key leaders and committed partners across and beyond government – our track record tells a story of meaningful progress. Over the last year, our comprehensive National Strategy for Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction has helped protect the most vulnerable among us from harm – and to seek justice on their behalf. And Department programs – from the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces, to the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention and the Defending Childhood Initiative – have helped to identify and reach out to kids who are in need and at risk; to bring those who would harm or exploit our children to justice; and to safeguard young people from the violence that has stolen so many promising futures.
Over the past two years, the driving force behind much of this work has been the steadfast determination of leaders like Laurie Robinson and Mary Lou Leary, in developing – and implementing – innovative, evidence-based approaches for addressing juvenile justice challenges. By relying on sound science to devise more effective alternatives to incarceration, we can improve our ability to be smart – as well as tough – on crime. And by enlisting the help of stakeholders in the private and nonprofit sectors, we can tailor our strategies to fit individual communities and conserve precious taxpayer resources.
Now, everyone in this room should take pride in the progress that’s been made in recent years. And I’d like to thank each of you for lending your perspectives and expertise – as well as your time and energy – to advancing this important cause.
But this is no time to become complacent. And I’m encouraged – and excited – to hear that, over the last few days, you haven’t been resting on your laurels. You’ve been discussing ways to build on the momentum that’s been created in recent years; and you’ve worked to develop the roadmap we need to take our critical work to the next level.
Across the Justice Department, my colleagues and I share your determination to keep moving forward. And we’re committed to building on the successes we’ve already achieved: by ensuring that our education system is a doorway of opportunity, and not a point of entry to our criminal justice system; by expanding our knowledge base, and investing in the kind of research that can help us identify crime “hot spots” and target resources more effectively; by working through forums like the Federal Interagency Reentry Council, which I am proud to chair, to reintegrate juvenile offenders into their communities; and by calling attention to the misguided policies that make reentry more difficult – as we’ve done with “MythBusters” like the ones we’re releasing today, which address problems related to juvenile court records and underscore the need for young people to get back to school after confinement.
Of course, the best way to approach juvenile justice issues is to begin by identifying ways to keep kids out of trouble in the first place. And one of the most effective – and proven – ways to accomplish that is through mentoring – a strategy OJJDP has supported for more than two decades.
Time and again, we’ve seen the difference that mentors can make in the lives of our young people, particularly those with specialized and specific needs – including children of military families. On a regular basis – and often without adequate support structures – many young people are forced to contend with deployment, separation, and even loss – complex issues that are extremely difficult to deal with on your own, no matter how old you are.
That’s why, today, I am proud to announce a series of grants to organizations that offer mentoring programs specifically targeting children with a parent in the military. These funds – designated by the Department of Defense and awarded by OJJDP – represent a new Justice Department/DoD partnership to support those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf. And they reflect this Administration’s commitment to standing with service members – and supporting their families in times of struggle and need.
More than $15 million in grants will be awarded to help fund training and mentorship initiatives administered by three national organizations: the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, and the National 4-H Council. And more than $3 million in additional grants have been awarded to multi-state mentoring initiatives: the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation; the National Alliance on Faith and Justice; Public/Private Ventures; Sea Research; the YMCA of San Francisco; and KidsPeace.
In all, these new grants total $20 million. They will help kids of military service members develop resiliency skills, become teen leaders, and connect with other military families. They will encourage young people to build healthy lifestyles, acquire career training, and become involved in their communities. And, above all, they will promote stability, discourage youth violence, and help to support and strengthen the Blue Star families that have given and sacrificed so much to keep this country safe.
As I mentioned earlier, we’re honored to have a few of these families – along with some of the mentors who have been working with them – here with us today, from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the National Capital Area and the Boys and Girls Club of the Washington, DC Area.
Their extraordinary work has given rise to the partnerships we announce this morning, the successes we seek to build upon, and the insights that will guide our future actions. And as we reaffirm our commitment to the critical efforts that – already – they are helping to lead, and look forward to the achievements that I’m confident we will make together – I ask each of you to join me in giving them a round of applause.
Supporting these families – as well as the many children across our country who need and deserve our help – is far more than our professional obligation. It is our moral calling. How we meet this challenge will define this nation, and determine its progress, for decades to come. The priorities that we set today – in grant programs like these, and conversations like the ones you’ve advanced all week – are what will allow America’s next generation of leaders to rise above the current threats and obstacles, to realize their potential, and to seize tomorrow’s opportunities.
While I know we will not be able to achieve the results our kids deserve overnight, as I look around this room, I can’t help but feel optimistic about where we will go from here – and what we will accomplish together.
Not only am I grateful for your partnership – I am counting on it. And I look forward to working with you all in the critical days ahead as we strive to make our nation better for all of its children. If we plan together, if we work together, if we stay committed, the world we imagine today can become a reality for our kids. Together, let us make real this new, better nation.