Thank you, Melodee. It’s a privilege to join with you – and to stand with so many distinguished leaders, dedicated advocates, and – especially – the five courageous young people who have chosen to share their stories with us this evening. I’d also like to recognize Secretary Sebelius, Director Kerlikowske, and Administrator Hyde – along with her colleagues across the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – for all they’ve done to bring us together. And I’d like to thank you all for your commitment – and extraordinary contributions – in protecting the health and safety of our nation’s young people.
As you’ve heard from so many of our speakers tonight, traumatic events and experiences can have a devastating, enduring impact on children and families alike. And for kids, in particular, exposure to violence – as a witness or a victim – can have far-reaching, long-term effects – increasing their chances for depression, substance abuse, and violent behavior later in life. Today, we know that the majority of our young people – more than 60 percent of them, in fact – have been exposed to crime, abuse, and violence. We know that this violence can take many forms. These patterns of violence aren’t limited to any one region, community, or demographic group. And exposure can happen virtually anywhere – at home, during school, on our streets, and online – where children face serious and unprecedented threats every day.
Recent analysis by Casey Family Programs – one of our nation’s leading child welfare foundations – provides a vivid illustration of what we’re up against. According to their findings, every 24 hours – on average – approximately 2,000 children are victims of child abuse and neglect. That’s more than three times the number of people in this auditorium – an alarming, unacceptable number; and a problem that demands innovative, aggressive, and collaborative solutions.
As Attorney General – and as the father of three teenagers – protecting the safety, and the potential, of our nation’s young people has long been both a personal and professional priority. From the landmark Defending Childhood Initiative – which we launched in 2010 – to the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention – which we plan to expand from six to ten cities across the country – I’m proud to report that today’s Department of Justice is partnering with state officials, local leaders, and stakeholders at every level to develop and implement tailored strategies for combating youth violence. Through the efforts of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, led by Melodee – and the groundbreaking research supported by the Office of Justice Programs – over the past few years, we’ve helped shed new light on complex youth violence issues. And we’ve learned a great deal about the impact of specific practices and policies.
In close partnership with HHS and other key agencies, we’re also developing new strategies for understanding and disrupting some of the most urgent challenges our children face. For example, we’re currently working with the Department of Education to address the “school-to-prison pipeline,” that, in far too many communities, transforms our schools from doorways to opportunity into gateways to our correctional system.
On this and other critical issues, we can all be proud of the progress that’s already been made. But, without question, we have more to do. And we all have a critical role to play. From civic leaders to local businesses – from law enforcement to academia – this work must involve a host of willing partners in – and far beyond – this room.
Tonight’s gathering is proof of our shared commitment to this cause – and a powerful illustration of the full range of tools and resources we can bring to bear in this fight. Already – thanks to the allies and advocates assembled here – this work is more cooperative, more collaborative, and more effective than ever before. And, as I look out over this crowd, I cannot help but feel confident in where your efforts will take us in the days ahead.
Once again, I’d like to thank you for your leadership and dedication. I am grateful – and honored – to count each of you as partners.