At the final hearing of Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence in Detroit, officials from the Justice Department and the city of Detroit underscored efforts to keep kids safe and prevent youth violence. The task force is a key part of Attorney General Holder’s Defending Childhood Initiative to prevent and reduce children’s exposure to violence.
At the hearing, Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West announced the release of a new Justice Department research bulletin showing that 46 percent of victimized children were known to school, police or medical authorities. The bulletin, Child and Youth Victimization Known to Police, School, and Medical Authorities draws from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs’ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“While more children are reporting violence to authorities, many continue to endure the pain of victimization in silence,” said Acting Associate Attorney General West. “Through the work of the Attorney General’s task force, we hope to find more ways to identify those children in need and make sure they have access to effective prevention and treatment options.”
The task force is co-chaired by Joe Torre, chairman of the board of the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation, and Robert Listenbee, Jr., chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. Co-chair Listenbee, a Detroit-area native, highlighted the urgency and opportunity of the task force’s work.
“I grew up just 20 miles outside of Detroit in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. During my high school years, violence was commonplace,” said Listenbee. “Similar violence still occurs in cities and towns across the country, but today we know so much more about how to address it. The resounding message this task force has heard is that we can – and must – change the norm of violence in children’s lives.”
During the opening session, Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee discussed the police department’s work with youth. He was joined by Lawnya Sherrod, a former Detroit gang member turned community organizer, who highlighted her work to get youth out of gangs and to help them graduate from high school and become productive, successful members of the community.
In a panel discussion about successful programs, Wayne County Child and Family Services Director Tadarial Sturdivant described his agency’s efforts to reform the juvenile justice system through a program called First Contact.
“[The program] creates an opportunity to collaborate with the Detroit Police Department and offer services at the street level to support the patrol officer who has first contact with the juvenile,” said Sturdivant. “As an alternative to arrest and detention, [the department] will convey youth to the Juvenile Assessment Center for stabilization, parental contact, brief assessment, transportation home, and referral for voluntary services.”
In a panel about public-private partnerships, Dr. William Bell, President and CEO of Casey Family Programs, discussed the need to meet the “overwhelming circumstances” of violence against children “with deliberate and intentional action.” Bell outlined concrete steps that every city in America could take to build “communities of hope” to reverse these violent trends.
Mary Lee, Deputy Director of PolicyLink, described how place influences many child outcomes. “ Just by knowing his or her zip code, a young person’s health, life expectancy, success in school, adult income¯all of these can be predicted,” noted Lee in her testimony, which described ways to improve the places children live to improve long-term outcomes.
The task force is composed of 13 leading experts, including practitioners, child and family advocates, academic experts and licensed clinicians, who will identify promising practices, programming and community strategies to prevent and respond to children’s exposure to violence. Their findings will inform their final report to the Attorney General in late 2012, which will present policy recommendations and serve as a blueprint for preventing and reducing the negative effects of such violence across the United States.
For more information about Attorney General Holder’s Defending Childhood Initiative and the task force, please visit: www.justice.gov/defendingchildhood.