Courtesy of Karol V. Mason, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs
When he proclaimed April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, President Obama said, “Every child should have every chance in life, every chance at happiness, and every chance at success. Yet tragically, hundreds of thousands of young Americans shoulder the burden of abuse or neglect.” The President urged Americans to remember that we all have a role to play in preventing child abuse and neglect and in helping young victims recover.
Protecting children is a top priority of Attorney General Eric Holder. Since his days as a prosecutor he has recognized the terrible impact of violence, trauma and abuse on children and the importance of coordinating our response. As Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno, he established “Safe Start,” a program designed to reduce the impact of children’s exposure to violence. When he took office as Attorney General in 2009, he picked up where he left off and launched “Defending Childhood,” an ongoing initiative to improve our understanding of the impact of children’s exposure to violence, turning that knowledge into workable strategies and effective programs.
This work comes at a critical time. A study released in 2009 by our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention showed that an astonishing 60 percent of children in the United States are exposed to some form of violence, crime, or abuse, ranging from brief encounters as witnesses to violent episodes as victims. The consequences of exposure to violence and abuse can lead in the short term to poor performance in school and to drug and alcohol abuse, but far more devastating is the long-term physical and psychological harm to the affected child. Kids who are exposed to violence have higher rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other physical issues. They are at greater risk of future victimization and suicide.
This damage extends beyond the individual children who are affected. We all feel the effects in rising healthcare, criminal justice, and other public costs. This significant public safety problem is fast becoming a serious public health problem – and it requires a wide-ranging response.
The good news is that because children are resilient, intervention and prevention work. OJP’s bureaus are engaged in supporting research that translates into programs and resources for those working with children.
For example, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention helps victims of child abduction and commercial sexual exploitation, and supports mentoring programs for tribal youth and faith-based and community initiatives.
The National Institute of Justice’s Violence Against Women and Family Violence Research and Evaluation program promotes the safety of women and family members and aims to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system's response to these crimes.
The Office for Victims of Crime has highlighted the issue with its remarkable series of videos, “Through Our Eyes: Children, Violence and Trauma” and this year will fund demonstration sites to establish a consistent, coordinated response to child and youth victims and their families and caregivers.
We are also collecting information on the needs of underserved populations. Because relatively little is known about violence against American Indian and Alaska Native children, and because what we do know is of great concern, the Attorney General appointed a new task force specifically to study this issue. That task force is now holding hearings throughout the country, addressing the impact of child sexual abuse, the intersection between child maltreatment and domestic violence, and the impact of the juvenile justice system.
This month also gives us a chance to thank those already committed to helping children in need. Recently I was privileged to speak to over 1,000 people at the National Symposium on Child Abuse about their work at child advocacy centers, where children who are brought into contact with our child protective and justice systems are getting the services they need to deal with the trauma they have experienced, such as critical medical care and coordinated and efficient case management.
Eliminating child abuse is a huge challenge. Thousands of children in communities across America need us – all of us – to advocate for their future, to determine whether it will be one darkened by the violence and abuse they have experienced or one lit by care and hope. As the President said in his proclamation, “Our nation thrives when we recognize that we all have a stake in each other. This month and throughout the year, let us come together -- as families, communities, and Americans -- to ensure every child can pursue their dreams in a safe and loving home.”
I encourage everyone to join in dialogues and community events that put our children front and center in our lives. For Office of Justice Programs resources on this topic please visit http://ojp.gov/, and for direct help addressing child abuse contact the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.